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Monday, January 21, 2013

Canada and the F-35

Image 1: F-35A undergoing flight testing (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2012)


Canada is set to purchase 65 CF-35 fighters to replace its aging fleet of CF-18's. The CF-35 is modified version of the American F-35A. The deal is worth C$10 billion. It is estimated the cost of maintaining the fleet will amount to C$12 billion over 20 years and C$ 45.802 billion if the CF-35 is kept in service for 42 years. (Defense Industry Daily, 2012)

The Canadian F-35 acquisition program has been subject to intense scrutiny by the Canadian public. Many of the concerns raised by Canadians have merit, most do not. This article will seek to address many of the performance based concerns raised by Canadians about the F-35. Ultimately, the F-35 fulfills Canada's defense needs better than any 4.5 generation alternative currently in production. The core objections that will be addressed in this argument are primarily from a paper/article written by Dr. Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon of Air Power Australia. Kopp's argument was chosen as it encapsulates the most credible argument against Canada's purchase of the F-35.  Performance concerns raised by F-35 JSF: Can It Meet Canada's Needs will be addressed in the first part of the article. Other works of Kopp are used intermittently for the purpose of viewing Kopp's full positions on the F-35. The 4.5 generation alternatives will be contrasted to the F-35 following part I. The final proposal including the recommended procurement details is included in Part III.

The most prudent method of determining what piece of military equipment a nation should purchase is to first establish what capabilities a nation needs to ensure its own national security. Kopp argues that Canada's next fighter aircraft must be able to accomplish the following four objectives: be successful against strategic bombers armed with cruise missiles, able to defeat high end 4.5 generation threats such as the Su-35 and even the 5th generation PAK FA, survive high threat environments and destroy an enemy IADS (integrated air defense system), and the ability to partake in counter insurgency (COIN) operations.

The author agrees with Kopp's view that the F-22A would be perfect for these roles. However, it is not constructive to dwell on exports of the Raptor. The likelihood of restarting Raptor production is nearly nonexistent due to current budgetary issues within the DoD. In regards to the aforementioned four objectives, Kopp argues that the F-35 will fail to meet the requirements. 

The Following excerpt is taken from:  F-35 JSF: Can It Meet Canada's Needs? (Source 1 in Reference)

  1.  The F-35 lacks the range, missile payload, radar performance and especially supersonic performance to be effective in the strategic air defence role, and with a single engine puts the lives of Canadian pilots at unnecessary risk in harsh Arctic conditions.
  2. The F-35 lacks the supersonic performance, missile payload, radar performance, agility and stealth performance to be effective in combat against the Su-35S Flanker E+, and has no ability to compete with the Sukhoi PAK-FA. This makes the F-35 ineffective in strategic air defence, if fighter escorts are deployed, and ineffective in expeditionary campaigns where the opponent operates such fighters.
  3.  The F-35 lacks the stealth performance to penetrate modern air defence systems armed with weapons such as the S-400, S-300PMU2, HQ-9 and planned S-500, especially if these SAMs are supported by modern “counter-stealth” radars operating in the lower radar bands.
  4.  In uncontested COIN operations, the F-35 lacks the payload and endurance to perform well, does not have the ballistic survivability for Close Air Support (CAS), and the CTOL variant demands long runways for operations, limiting choices in deployment sites.

Article Layout 

Part I: A Brief Overview of the F-35 
  1. Range Concerns
  2. Radar Concerns
  3. Maneuverability Concerns
  4. Internal Missile Load Concerns
  5. Stealth and Survivability
  6. Avionics and Sensors: DAS, EOTS, HMD 
  7. Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 4.5 Generation Opponents 
  8. Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 5th Generation Opponents  
  9. Lethality Summary 
  10. Penetration of an Enemy IADS
  11. Survivability & Air to Ground 
    Part II: Canada's Alternatives

    1. JAS 39 Gripen 
    2. Rafale
    3. Eurofighter Typhoon
    4. F-15SE
    5. F/A-18E, F/A-18F, EA-18G
    6. Conclusion 

    Part III: Final Proposal and Recommendations to the Canadian Government  

Range Concerns (1)

The Canadian Air Force is tasked with defending the second largest country in the world; range is important. Comparatively speaking, the F-35A has an above average combat radius. Depending upon the configuration, the combat radius for the F-35A is 584 nautical miles (InsideDefense, 2012). The JAS 39 Gripen has a combat radius of 432 nautical miles and the CF-18 has a combat radius of around 500 nautical miles depending upon the configuration. (FAS, 2011) The F-22A Raptor has a combat radius of around 540 nautical miles. (AFA, 2012) The Canadian CF-35's range will be augmented further with the use of both drop tanks and the considerable American tanker fleet, should the need arise. The CF-35 will be modified to carry a refueling probe that is compatible with current CAF (Canadian Air Force) tankers. 

Radar Concerns (1)

      Kopp's concern of missile load will be discussed in the rebuttal to point two. Kopp's claims against the F-35's radar are baseless. The number of TR modes a radar array has generally indicates its detection power. Top of the line AESA radars feature 1,500 TR modules e.g the APG-77 in the F-22A. Due to the F-35's smaller nose, the APG-81 is a 1,200 TR AESA array. Despite its lower detection power relative to the Raptor, the APG-81 out preforms nearly all of its contemporaries. Currently, there is only one radar mounted on a non-western fighter that is superior to the APG-81 (in terms of detection power), the Su-35's Irbis E radar. The 1,500 TR element array planned for the PAK FA will have greater raw detection power than the APG-81 but will almost certainly lack a comparable performance liquid cooling system (APA, 2010), refined low probability intercept modes (LPI), and excellent jamming resistance of the APG-81.  
Image 2: Detection ranges of fighter aircraft radars. Image Credit: Air Power Australia, 2007 
     The radar cross section of an aircraft is not the only signature that can give away an aircraft's position. The aircraft’s own radar array can compromise its presence to an opponent regardless of how outwardly stealthy the airframe is. 

      "Radar is like long-range eyes in the sky for modern warplanes. Without this sensor, a plane is more or less flying blind. The problem is, radar works by emitting energy -- lots of it. And that can be detected by an enemy's own passive radar receptors in the same way that someone standing in a dark room can track the movements of another person carrying a flashlight." - Axe, 2012

      Raytheon's engineers carefully designed the APG-81 to aid the F-35's achieve all aspect stealth. Like the APG-77 on the F-22A, the APG-81 uses emission control principles to lower the probability of its signals being intercepted. Bill Sweetman describes how emission control principles work for the F-22A: The radar's signals are managed in intensity, duration and space to maintain the pilot's situational awareness while minimizing the chance that its signals will be intercepted.More distant targets get less radar attention; as they get closer to the F-22, they will be identified and prioritized; and when they are close enough to be engaged or avoided, they are continuously tracked.
Russia has yet to attain the same level of proficiency in producing high quality LPI radar systems.  (APA Flanker Radars Article, 2010) 

Kopp's assertion that a single engine puts Canadian pilots at risk is a fallacy. Sweden has deployed the single engine JAS 39 Gripen without incident. Furthermore, many arctic based militaries have operated the single engine F-16 for decades e.g Norway and Alaska based F-16’s.  

Maneuverability Concerns (2) 

Images 3 & 4: F-35A undergoing 50 degree angle of attack (AOA) testing. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin, 2012 

NOTE: In point two, Kopp argues the F-35 has limited lethality (overall dogfight abilities comprised of maneuverability, missile load, survivability and avionics). Each of these elements will be discussed separately before evaluating the aggregate lethality performance of the F-35 for the purpose of organization. 

The vast majority of opponents to the CF-35 program cite the lack of maneuverability as the foremost problem with the F-35 design. Kopp essentially argues the F-35 does not have the high maneuverability required to win visual range engagements. An aircraft's maneuverability is determined by examining its: wing loading, sustained turn ability, g limit tolerance, thrust to weight ratio, rate of climb, angle of attack limitations, acceleration, etc. Kopp's assessment that the F-35's design does not yield high maneuverability is only partially true.  The combat wing loading for the F-35A is high (87.71 lb/ft^2 with full air to air load out with 50% fuel) meaning its sustained radius turn ability is likely lower than its peers. 

Combat wing loading (50% fuel with full air to air load) of high performance 4.5 and 5th generation aircraft : 

Graphic 1: Although wing loading effects turn ability, this graph does not represent overall maneuverability. Furthermore, a contributing factor to turn ability, other factors such as thrust vectoring, could not be shown on this graph.  

It is worth noting the F-35 is not a purpose built air dominance fighter like the Raptor. The F-35 was designed as a strike fighter. An aircraft whose role is to both deliver precise air to ground strikes while being  able to deliver a reasonable air to air level of maneuverabilityTraits specific to a pure bred dogfighter e.g. low wing loading were compromised for added ordinance and fuel capacity to assist in strike missions. Limitations such as high wing loading were intentionally built in. Despite the F-35's intended lower maneuverability, current testing shows the F-35 is unable to meet some of the low promised performance levels. Although the officially released specifications list the F-35A as 9g capable with a 5.3G sustained turn ability, recent tests have brought up troubling G tolerance issues. 

"Sustained turning performance for the F-35B is being reduced from 5G to 4.5G while the F-35A sinks from 5.3G to 4.6G according to the report...'Horizontal tail surfaces are experiencing higher than expected temperatures during sustained high‑speed / high‑altitude flight, resulting in delamination and scorching of the surface coatings and structure'" - Flight Global, 2013

This level of sustained g performance is on par with the F-4 Phantom and other 1960s era aircraft. (Defense Industry Daily, 2013) This level of maneuverability performance is unacceptable.  

Dave Majumdar of Flight Global and Tom Burbage from Lockheed Martin explains:

"'Based on the original spec, all three of the airplanes are challenged by that spec,' said Tom Burbage, Lockheed's program manager for the F-35. 'The cross-sectional area of the airplane with the internal weapons bays is quite a bit bigger than the airplanes we're replacing'...The sharp rise in wave drag at speeds between Mach 0.8 and Mach 1.2 is one of the most challenging areas for engineers to conquer. And the F-35's relatively large cross-sectional area means, that as a simple matter of physics, the jet can't quite match its predecessors...We're dealing with the laws of physics. You have an airplane that's a certain size, you have a wing that's a certain size, you have an engine that's a certain size, and that basically determines your acceleration characteristics,' Burbage said. 'I think the biggest question is: are the acceleration characteristics of the airplane operationally suitable?'"

The Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report states how Lockheed Martin plans to proceed:

"The program scheduled modification of one fight sciences aircraft of each variant with new skin coatings on the horizontal tail to permit fight testing in the currently restricted part of the high-speed/high-altitude fight envelope. The test team is adding more fight test instrumentation to help quantify the impacts of the tail heating to support necessary design changes. The program scheduled modifications on one aircraft (AF-2) to be completed in early 2013 to allow fight testing of the new skin design on the horizontal tails to proceed"

It is too early to assess if the sustained g performance will improve as Lockheed is still working on resolving the issue. Canada should keep a very close eye on further developments of the F-35's sustained g performance. The author expects the final production version to have comparable to marginally improved transonic performance to the F-16. This issue will be further elaborated on in Part III. 

In other aerodynamic performance criteria, the F-35 preforms adequately to exceptional. The thrust to weight ratio for the F-35A is essentially 1.00 (.9867) depending upon internal fuel levels and configuration. Most high performance fighter's have a combat thrust to weight ratio (50% internal fuel with air to air stores) of greater than or equal to 1.00 e.g. the F-22A has a 1.27 T/W,  Su-30 MK 1.1, JAS 39 Gripen .97 (basically 1.00 depends on internal fuel). Thus, the F-35 has an good T/W ratio. 

Most dogfights occur in the high subsonic range of Mach .06-.09. In this area, the F-35 has exceptional acceleration relative to other fighter aircraft (Defense News, 2013).   

“I can’t even explain the adrenaline rush you get when you light the afterburner on that thing...The acceleration is much better than an F-16.” - Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith 

      Maneuverability Performance Summary (+ = good, - = bad, +/- = average)

- high wing loading
- mediocre sustained turn ability 
- problematic transonic acceleration performance (will almost certainly be fixed)
+/- average to mediocre top speed
+/- Angle of attack performance within acceptable parameters
+ good thrust to weight ratio (not exceptional)
+ excellent high subsonic acceleration  performance 
+ (?) rate of climb is classified; with 9 g capability, decent AOA, and thrust to weight ratio, rate of climb is likely decent to good

 When all of the F-35's maneuverability characteristics are combined, it becomes clear the F-35 is nothing like the Raptor. The question is not if the F-35 has lower maneuverability traits than its peers. Rather, the question is does the F-35's overall maneuverability and handling characteristics totally compromise the F-35's ability to dogfight? 

The short answer is no. Although, the F-35A's turn radius is inferior to legacy systems, its thrust to weight ratio is adequate. The extreme positions taken by those against the F-35 do not always reflect the reality of the data.  Like all aircraft, it has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of handling that pilots will have to exploit and adapt to.

"Know and use all the capabilities in your airplane. If you don't, sooner or later, some guy who does use them all will kick your ass." - Lieutenant Dave "Preacher" Pace, USN

Block upgrades will improve certain aspects of the F-35's overall maneuverability over time. Block 6 improvements include propulsion upgrades (SOURCE 20 & 21). Possible upgrades could include thrust vectoring, supercruise and increased total thrust. However, Block 6 will not be operational until past 2017 (Block 3F operational 2017). Certain aspects of the F-35's maneuverability such as wing loading will likely remain high into the future unless aircraft weight can be greatly diminished or the wing area is increased (both are unlikely). Another factor to keep in mind is the F-35's usage of internal weapon bays. Most maneuverability statistics for aircraft are taken in a clean (no weapons) configuration. When weapons, fuel tanks, and targeting pods are added an aircraft, its drag and overall maneuverability characteristics are significantly affected. The F-35 will not suffer from these limitations. Overall, when the F-35's maneuverability characteristics are combined with other aspects of lethality (dogfight ability), it becomes clear the F-35 is deadlier than nearly all of its peers. 

Internal Missile Load Concerns (2)

Image 5: F-35 weapons bay test with inert AIM-120 missile. 

      Currently, the F-35's internal weapons bays can only accommodate a maximum of four air to air missiles.   Most fighter aircraft can carry at least eight air to air missiles. This is a major area of concern given the low probability kill (pk) of even the most advanced air to air missiles. It is highly probable that multiple shots will be required against single targets. Earlier models of the AIM-120 AMRAAM have a demonstrated combat pk of .46 (RAND, 2011) The limited pk of the AIM-120 is not due to engineering incompetence. Electronic counter measures, chaff, and basic fighter maneuvering have a combined effect of greatly reducing missile kill probability. Despite the advancement of missile guidance systems, the power and sophistication of jamming equipment has also increased over time. A reasonable pk estimation for the USAF's premier medium range air to air missile, the AIM-120D, is between 45-55% (my own estimation). The AIM-120D is the world's highest performance medium range air to air missile. The missile features a two way data link, improved pk qualities, greatly expanded kill envelope, supplementary GPS guidance system, and 50% greater range than its predecessor the AIM-120C-7 (Source 63). In particular, the immense range capability of the AIM-120D sets it apart from other high performance medium range air to air missiles like the MBDA Meteor. 
Range of advanced medium range air to air missiles (Sources 63-65)
AIM-120D 180 km; >97 nautical miles 
MBDA Meteor 100 km +; 60 nautical miles
Vympel R-77M-PD RVV-AE-PD (Povyshlenayya Dal'nost'): 148 km; 80 nautical miles (?) estimates vary

The main infrared (IR) guided missile for the USAF, the AIM-9, has a demonstrated combat pk of .23 in Desert Storm (RAND, 2010). Perfecting an IR seeker that can consistently distinguish between countermeasures (such as flares) and a jet engine has eluded U.S engineers for nearly a decade. The newest Sidewinder variant, the AIM-9X Block II, represents a quantum leap forward in capabilities. In addition to featuring a flare rejecting IR seeker, the AIM-9X design features thrust vectoring. (Raytheon, 2010) With these combination of features, the AIM-9X's pk against maneuvering IR counter measure equipped targets is greatly increased over traditional IR missiles. The pk of the AIM-9X against modern targets might be in between the .23 pk of the Gulf War and the demonstrated pk of AIM-9L (73%) during the Falklands War (Argentinians had inadequate IR countermeasures and little anti-missile training)

When utilized in conjunction with the F-35's HMD, the AIM-9X is capable of 90° off boresight shots. Off boresight capability allows the pilot to move his helmet mounted display (HMD) in the direction of the target, automatically gain lock on to the target, and the missile will quickly orient itself up to 90° away from the launch point in an attempt to intercept the target.

Image 6: Off-boresight demonstration of the Israeli Python 4 missile. The AIM-9X would look similar to the graphic above when off boresight capacity is utilized. Image courtesy of Defense Industry Daily. 

The AIM-9X Block II is capable of lock on after launch (LOAL) shots. With LOAL capacity, the pilot can fire a missile prior to acquiring the target. The AIM-9X Block II achieves LOAL through the use of the same data link capacity of the AIM-120D. The AIM-9X Block II also has a much longer maximum range when compared to other comparable IR missiles. As with the AIM-120D, the AIM-9X is the highest preforming missile of its class worldwide. Despite the AIM-9X's lethality, the current F-35 design still has a mediocre missile capacity. 

 To address these concerns, Lockheed Martin has undertaken two initiatives. Block four upgraded F-35's will feature an optimized weapon bay configuration. This will allow the F-35 to carry six medium range AIM-120D air to air missiles as opposed to merely four. (SOURCE 21) Unfortunately for Canada, the Canadian Air Force needs to order its F-35's by 2014 if it wants deliveries by 2019 to replace its CF-18's (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). Aircraft produced during 2014 will be of the low rate initial production (LRIP) 6 cycle and will be of the Block 3F standard. It is highly advisable for Canada to insist upon Block 4 capable CF-

Image 7: The top weapons bay is a rough visual approximation of how the optimized internal AIM-120 configuration of the Block 4 aircraft would likely look like (except no 2,000 lb bomb). Image courtesy of web forums, source 68. 

The second initiative to address the F-35's low missile capacity is a potentially revolutionary missile design nicknamed "CUDA". The Lockheed designed CUDA is a small radar guided missile that lacks a warhead. Instead, CUDA uses its high kinetic energy to kill its target. (Air Force Magazine, 2013) As a result, CUDA is much smaller than the conventional AIM-120D (about the size of a small diameter bomb). If fully laden with CUDA missiles, the F-35's internal missile capacity triples from four to twelve. 

Image 8: F-35 model on display at the Air Force Association Technology Expo in 2012. The CUDA fits in a small diameter bomb rack. Image Credit: Air Force Magazine, 2012.

Image 9: Close up of CUDA concept model provided by Lockheed Martin to the Aviationist 2012.

      Aside from the information discussed above, virtually no information has been released about CUDA due to the classified nature of aspects of its design e.g. use of advanced hit to kill technology. 

    "We are having some challenges getting information on Cuda cleared for public release...Cuda is a Lockheed Martin multi-role Hit-to-Kill (HTK) missile concept. Lockheed Martin has discussed the missile concept with the United States Air Force. The Cuda concept significantly increases the internal carriage capacity for 5th generation fighters (provides 2X to 3X capacity). Combat proven HTK  technology has been in the US Army for over a decade.  Bringing this proven HTK technology to the USAF will provide potentially transformational new capabilities and options for new CONOPS.” - Cheryl Amerine, Cuda POC at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control

      If CUDA lives up to expectations, the missile could eliminate the F-35's missile deficiency altogether. The Canadian Government should request information regarding CUDA and its possible acquisition for the Canadian Air Force. 

Stealth & Survivability (2)

      Kopp frequently challenges the stealth designation of the F-35. He remains one of the few reputable sources to do so. In particular, Kopp argues that a potential area of concern stems from the curvature on the bottom of the fuselage. According to Kopp, these curves jeopardize the F-35's stealth performance. Upon further inspection, it is clear that the original X-35 prototype, F-22, F-117, and YF-23 feature these curves on the underside of the airframe. 

      Image 10: F-35A undergoing flight testing. Note the curves featured in the lower fuselage near the weapon bay doors. The EOTS sensor is also visible in this illustration. Look on the bottom of the F-35's nose.  

      However, the vast majority of analysts consider the F-35 to be an all aspect stealth aircraft. The F-35 design incorporates radar reduction methods, IR reduction, LPI radar, and stealthy communication systems. Radar reduction methods include: planform alignment designed flight surfaces, diverterless supersonic inlets, radar absorbent materials (RAM), and internal weapons bays.
      F-35 Lightening II rcs figures: front aspect rcs .0015m^2 (Global Security, 2013) , side and rear rcs .01m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2010) 

Kopp argues that export versions of the F-35 will likely not have the same degree of stealthiness as their American counterparts. Officially Lockheed Martin has not indicated publicly if export versions will feature less stealth. (Defense Technology, 2011) If Lockheed wanted to lower the stealth capabilities of export variants, it is likely they would modify the RAM coatings as opposed to the airframe itself. Stealth is already built into the F-35 airframe through various design techniques. It would be much less effort on behalf of Lockheed to apply lower quality RAM to export versions than to modify the airframe itself. The F-35 also employs a number of coatings to reduce its IR signature (David Axe, 2013). These could also be modified by Lockheed if it desires to do so. 

     A quick look review compiled by Defense Department experts listed ongoing concerns that have emerged since testing began. The publicly available version (SOURCE 30) omits a classified survivability issue. Bill Sweetman believes the omitted issue might relate to lower than expected stealth performance. At this point, only those within the Pentagon know for sure if the F-35's stealth has been compromised to any degree. Sweetman's assessment is certainly plausible.However, the report does state Lockheed is undertaking measures to address the classified issue. 

"The QLR team evaluated the classified concerns and determined that while program plans were in place to address those risks the aforementioned concerns with the HMD and aircraft maneuverability still held." -page 5 (SOURCE 30)

Overall, the F-35 still delivers a robust stealth performance. Vindication of the F-35's stealth design can be found in the new Chinese stealth fighters. Several of the same design features (e.g. diverterless supersonic inlets) are incorporated into the both the J-20 and J-31 design. After all, imitation is the sincerest form flattery.

Arguably the most important method of reducing an airframe's rcs, planform alignment, has been demonstrably incorporated into the F-35's design. Planform alignment is a proven technique to reduce an aircraft's radar cross section. The United States first perfected the technique in the Advanced Tactical Fighter competition during the 1990s. The result of the ATF was the YF-22 and YF-23 prototypes. 

Image 11: An example of planform alignment utilized in the F-35's design. Note how the vertical stabilizers and the fuselage slides are curved at the same angle. The resulting effect of planform alignment is the oriented flight surfaces of the aircraft shape and focus radar energy away from the source. In order to achieve all aspect stealth, all of the flight surfaces within the airframe must be utilized to this effect. (Image retrieved from above top secret forums, 2013)  

The secondary method many fighter aircraft use to detect targets is an IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system. The incorporation of this system has become increasingly standard among Russian built fighter aircraft. To mitigate the effectiveness of Russian IRST systems, the F-35 design employs a number of IR reduction design features. 

"F-35 Engine Nozzles Employ Specially Designed Shaping, Ceramic Shielding, and Other Coatings To Effectively Reduce IR Emissions" - Lockheed Martin, 2012

Image 12: F-35B rear. Note the sawtooth engine nozzle design to reduce radar returns. The IR protection on the rear of the aircraft is not as extensive as the Raptor. (David Axe, 2013) However, both the Russian Pak Fa and Chinese stealth fighters lack any IR protection of the engine nozzles. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin, 2011) 

The F-35 also employs a complex system of heat sinks to disperse heat generated from on board avionics and actuators into the fuel. (David Axe, 2013) The combination of these features greatly reduces the F-35's overall IR signature. In a similar manner to radar cross section, the F-35's IR signature is greatly reduced by still exists. Therefore, the detection range of an enemy's IRST system is diminished; it is still possible to track an F-35 with an IRST provided the IRST is close enough. German pilots reported claimed they were able to track the stealthy Raptor with their Eurofighter's IRST system from 50 km or 27 nautical miles away (The Aviationist, 2012). The reported maximum range of the Eurofighter's IRST is 100 km. (Defense Science Journal, 2007) Assuming the figure is accurate, IR reduction methods were clearly effective. The same principles should apply to the F-35. 

A third method for avoiding detection that the F-35 makes use of the multifunction advanced data link (MADL) system. Normal radio emissions would betray the F-35's location to the enemy. Older USAF data links are also vulnerable to enemy detection. MADL grants the F-35 the ability to communicate in high threat environments with one another, fellow F-22 pilots, the B-2 pilots, and to HQ. (USAF, 2010) The MADL is also employed by the B-2 Spirit (Not the F-22). 

Avionics & Sensors (2)


Apart from Stealth, the highly complex integrated avionic suite is the F-35's main selling point. In addition to the capable APG-81 AESA, the F-35 employs the Northrup Grumman built distributed aperture system (DAS). DAS greatly enhances the F-35's survivability and mission capability.  

"[The F-35's AN/AAQ-37 Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System] comprises six fixed, wide-angle infrared cameras that constantly image the entire sphere around the F-35… and one of its functions is to provide imagery to the VSI helmet-mounted display… one of the DAS’ most interesting capabilities is that it can constantly track every aircraft in the sky, out to its maximum range… covers the within-visual-range envelope… it stares, never looking away from any target, and it has optical accuracy, with megapixel-class resolution…Moreover, DAS is expected to track with enough accuracy and tenacity to permit a safe high-off-boresight, lock-on-after-launch (LOAL) missile shot with any datalink-equipped missile. Indeed, Northrop Grumman’s DAS business development leader, Pete Bartos – who was part of the initial USAF JSF requirements team – says that this was basic to the F-35 design and the reason that it did not need maneuverability similar to the F-22. Rather than entering a turning fight at the merge, the F-35 barrels through and takes an over-the-shoulder defensive shot. As a Northrop Grumman video puts it, 'maneuvering is irrelevant'.” - Bill Sweetman retrieved via Defense Industry Daily, 2013


Another sophisticated sensor the F-35 uses is the electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). The EOTS sensor is the small glass done on the underside of the nose. The EOTS is shaped in such a way as to not compromise the F-35's stealth outline. 

"The Electro-Optical Targeting System is an affordable, high-performance, lightweight, multi-functional system for precision air-to-air and air-to-surface targeting. The low-drag, stealthy EOTS is integrated into the Joint Strike Fighter's fuselage with a durable sapphire window and is linked to the aircraft's integrated central computer through a high-speed fiber-optic interface…The EOTS uses a staring midwave 3rd generation FLIR that provides superior target detection and identification at greatly increased standoff ranges. EOTS also provides high-resolution imagery, automatic tracking, infrared-search-and-track, laser designation and rangefinding, and laser spot tracking. Sharing a Sniper legacy, it provides high reliability and efficient two-level maintenance." - Global Security, 2011


      Image 13: F-35 HMD (Image courtesy of source 85) 

      The F-35's HMD grants the pilot SRAAM (short range air to air missile) off boresight capabilities, night vision, and target tracking abilities. The F-35's HMD will be instrumental in its survival against highly maneuverable adversaries. The lethality of off boresight missile & HMD equipped 4.5 generation aircraft has already been demonstrated in mock dogfights. Unlike the F-35, the current Raptor design does not include an HMD. The importance of an HMD has been best illustrated by engagements between the highly maneuverable but HMD deficient Raptor vs. HMD equipped but less maneuverable adversaries. One Raptor pilot noted: 
      "Without a helmet, that means the missile will need a very tight cue from somewhere...[That's] something that is not always available in a dynamic, turning environment." - Flight Global, 2013

     Defense Industry Daily provided further insight into the thoughts of Raptor pilots:  
      "The pilots like the AIM-9X’s added range, which extends to beyond visual range levels when launched at supercruise speed, and its ability to lock-on after launch. The problem is that without an HMD like the JHMCS I/II on other USAF fighters, or the Thales (Gentex) Scorpion that equips A-10s and some Air National Guard F-16s, the pilots can’t take full advantage of the missile’s full targeting cone. It doesn’t help that AIM-9X Block II’s one cited deficiency is helmetless high off-boresight (HHOBS) performance, but a fix can be expected by 2017. The Raptor may be able to out-turn anyone, but an opponent with 30 degrees more sighting cone to work with doesn’t have to maneuver as hard." - Source 86

      The F-35's HMD, EOTS, and DAS systems ameliorate the F-35's maneuverability performance. As I have continually stressed in previous assessments, emerging technologies such as those listed above must be utilized in conjunction with proven techniques and technologies (e.g. maneuverability) for maximum operational effectiveness. In the event of a problem with the new technology or tactic, which often occurs in a real combat situation, the pilot will have a back-up plan to fall back to (maneuverability). In this sense, the F-35 does not incorporate this design philosophy. More information on this topic (link)

      Inspite of this deficiency, the combined effect of the F-35's sensor suite will provide the F-35 will high survivability and good dogfight performanceThe integration of an IRST will greatly aid F-35's pilots in finding the IR unprotected Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft. The F-35's combined avionic's suite is unmatched by any fighter aircraft in production today. In many respects the F-35's avionics are superior to the F-22's. The original Raptor design featured an electro-optical sensor but was removed as a cost saving measure. (Air Power Australia, 2012)

Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 4.5 Generation Opponents 

The combination of sensors, stealth, missile load (provided block 4 and CUDA), top of the line avionics, and tolerable maneuverability make the F-35 significantly more lethal than any 4.5 generation fighter. As discussed by in the previous report, 4th Generation Aircraft in the 21st Century, the majority of aircraft serving most non-western air forces will be 4th and 4.5 generation aircraft for at least two decades (with possible exception of China). Russia will only field 250 PAK FA 5th generation fighters. With delays and price increases, India cut its order of FGFA (Indian PAK FA variant) from 200 to 144 aircraft. Depending upon budgetary constraints, its plausible Russia will also be forced to reduce PAK FA procurement. The principle adversary of the F-35 will likely be the Su-35, Su-30MK, and J-10. Of the three, the Su-35 is arguably the most capable. Fourth generation threats the F-35 is likely to encounter will be discussed prior to probable 5th generation threats.

The Su-35 is an excellent 4.5 generation fighter, but it is simply outclassed by the F-35. Lets assume a pair of CF-35's and a pair of Su-35BM's engage one another around 2020. Both aircraft are armed with their standard air to air load outs and the CF-35 is of the block 3F standard. All figures from Air Power Australia, Global Security, and the RAND corporation (more details in the Notes section). The following is a plausible outcome:

      Two Canadian CF-35 are on a routine CAP (combat air patrol) mission over Northern Canada. American AWACS identifies two incoming hostile aircraft and provides intercept data. The Canadian pilots move to intercept while seamlessly sharing information and coordinating their efforts through MADL. The CF-35's AN/APG-81's radar detects the reduced radar cross section of two Su-35BM's at a range of around 75 nautical miles. The Lightning pilots use their APG-81 radar's to simultaneously jam and track the Su-35's radar while providing targeting data to AIM-120D missiles. With the use of low probability intercept modes, the Russian pilots do not know they are currently being targeted. The lead CF-35 fires both of its AIM-120D missiles at the incoming Su-35's. The Su-35's OLS-35 detects the IR signatures of the AIM-120D missiles at a range of around 27 nautical  miles. The Russian pilots turn into the missile, use their wingtip mounted L005 Sorbstiya ECM (electronic counter measure) pods, and deploying chaff. Both missiles fail. 

      One Russian pilot registers a pair of faint radar contacts 25 nautical miles (46.3km) away and sends the data to his wingman. The Russians move to intercept. Both Su-35's are fully laden with a deadly assortment of medium range radar guided and short range IR guided missiles. Both Russian pilots fire R-77 "Adder" missiles at the incoming unknown radar contacts. Shortly afterward, both Su-35 pilots identify the incoming aircraft as hostile CF-35's with their OLS-35 IRST system. 

      Both Canadian pilots are immediately alerted to the incoming threats by their DAS sensor. The incoming missiles are highlighted and displayed in real time to the helmet mounted display of the Canadian pilots. The Canadians use the APG-81 to jam the incoming missiles while simultaneously deploying chaff and turn into the missiles. Both missiles fail to hit their targets. Two new threats appear on the Canadian HMD's, R-73 IR guided missiles. The Canadians manage to ripple fire four CUDA missiles 15 nautical miles from the merge before deploying countermeasures. Once again, the F-35's stealth, EOTS, DAS, and HMD help the F-35's defeat the oncoming missiles. 

      One of the Russian pilots is lucky and manages to dodge both of the incoming CUDA missiles. His wingman only manages to dodge one. Despite the direct impact of the missile, the Su-35's tough titanium construction, foam filled internal fuel tanks, and back up systems allow the hit Su-35BM to stay aloft long enough for it to return to base. The remaining unscathed Su-35BM gets within visual range of the Canadians and proceeds to initiate the dogfight. The enemy aircraft pass one another in the merge and turn to face one another head on. 

      The highly maneuverable Flanker grants the Russian pilot many options. However, with their extensive training at Red Flag, the Canadian's know how to use their aircraft's advantages to their full effect while avoiding particular engagement openings that favor the Flanker (e.g. high speed turning fights). Using MADL, the Canadian's quickly decide upon a course of action. The Flanker's location is continuously tracked by the first Canadian's HMD as he acquires tone for his AIM-9X Sidewinder missile; he fires. Meanwhile, the second Canadian pilot accelerates and gains altitude to position himself for a gun kill.

      The Russian is immediately alerted to the incoming Sidewinder. His IRST tracks both the CF-35's and the incoming missile. He deploys flares and uses his superb maneuverability to try and escape the missile. The Sidewinder's seeker head rejects the IR emissions from the flares and proceeds to gain on the Flanker using its own thrust vectoring engine nozzle. The Sidewinder's explosive rod warhead detonates on the Flanker's number two engine and disables it. The Russian pilot panics and engages afterburner on his remaining engine in an effort to escape. The second Canadian pilot emerges from altitude and proceeds to fire a burst of 25mm PGU-38/U high explosive cannon rounds into the Flanker. The resulting fireball and shrapnel plummets towards the ice below. 

This scenario demonstrated the following key points: 

- limited pk. of missiles; high degree of survivability even 4.5 generation fighters have vs. missiles 
- Flanker design features high degree of durability 
- the high degree of technological superiority the F-35's sensors have over their Russian counterparts
- Fighter aircraft will still engage one another at visual range despite advancements in Stealth  
- importance of IRST
- the often unaddressed importance of pilot training and preparation. Russian fighter pilots have a mandatory requirement of 100 flight hours per year (SOURCE 40). Canadian pilots fly more than two hundred flight hours per year* and partake in extensive live fire training exercises with USAF pilots.  
- importance of not only radar reduction methods but also: IR reduction and stealthy coms
- importance of low probability intercept modes 
- Many accounts of real dogfights indicate inexperienced pilots often panic and try attempt to rtb (return to base) prematurely rather than assessing the situation in a calm manner. 

*Presumably the Canadian Air Force has similar standards to the USAF which has a 250-300 flight hours per year requirement for fighter pilots (SOURCE 41). No specific information regarding CAF flight hour requirements was found despite thorough research.

Lethality (Dogfight ability) vs. 5th Generation Opponents

The future export market for 5th generation aircraft will be dominated by American, Russian, and Chinese designs. A handful of other countries have plans for domestic 5th generation development programs but none (with the possible exception of India's advanced medium combat aircraft) will likely materialize into widely produced export designs. At the time of writing this article, three foreign stealth fighters have conducted flight testing: J-31, J-20 and PAK FA. 

The Chinese aerospace consortium, Avic, announced the J-31 would be available for export during the Zhuhai airshow. (Aviation Week, 2012) The J-31 will likely become the most widely produced 5th generation fighter developed outside of the United States. The primary reason will be cost. Chinese arms manufacturers have been able to routinely produce cheaper weapons than their Russian counterparts (though quality of certain systems is questionable). Ten to Fifteen years from now (2023-2028), the J-31 will be an attractive acquisition for developing nations without the necessary diplomatic or military ties to the United States. Avic has unofficially announced the J-31 will be an export only aircraft and consequently not serve in the People's Liberation Army Air Force. (Aviation Week, 2012) With the limited information available, it is difficult to confirm Aviation Week's claim. Typically, China procures both a heavy and light fighter design for the PLAAF. The J-20 is undoubtedly the heavy fighter design. 

“In traditional PLA thinking, there has always been a necessity for ‘light’ plus ‘heavy’ in terms of equipment.” - Gary Li, 2012

Any production number would be speculative at this point. It is plausible for China produce 300-500 J-31's between 2020-2035 provided domestic production of jet engines and internal systems becomes viable. 

Operational effectiveness will be higher than current or upgraded fourth-generation fighters or almost equivalent to typical fifth-generation” - Avic 

Reliable information about the internal systems and avionics of the Chinese stealth fighter is scarce. The number of unknowns makes a more comprehensive analysis difficult. The sophistication of advanced avionic systems and software is a likely a major impediment to the development of the J-31. China's previous attempts at manufacturing fighter radars have yielded mixed results. The current domestically produced J-10 features a radar that delivers comparable performance to U.S. F-15 radars produced during the early 1990s (Sinodefense, 2010). Constructing a high power and LPI capable AESA is a daunting task. Furthermore,the small space within the J-31's nose will limit the J-31's radar TR module capacity (meaning a reduction in detection power). The U.S. maintains a critical edge in AESA technology over China and to a lesser degree, Russia. Both the J-31 and J-20 will certainly feature AESA radars, but they will not be as capable as the APG-81 or APG-77. 

Similarly, Chinese aerospace firms have been unable to produce reliable high compression ratio turbofan engines. As a result, both the J-31 and J-20 are under powered. The current J-31 prototype uses Russian built RD-93 engines which produce 19,000 lbf of thrust. (Aviation Week, 2012) The J-31's incorporation of two engines will mitigate some of the risks resulting from lower reliability and lower performance engines. Chinese aerospace firms, e.g. Aviation Industry Corp. of China, are projected to invest $24 billion into jet engine development by 2015 (The Diplomat, 2012). Over the next twenty years, some engine development estimates are as high as $49 billion. (Reuters, 2012) It is probable that within a decade to fifteen years China will come close to bridging the gap with the United States in terms of jet engine technology (especially if U.S Government R&D continues to suffer). 

Image 16: The J-31 airframe bears a remarkable degree of similarity to the F-35. Consequently, the J-31 might suffer from the same high wing loading and low sustained radius turn ability. Avic claims the J-31 has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and has a combat radius of 675 nautical miles or 1250 km. (Image Credit: Defense 

The degree of stealth featured on Chinese stealth fighters is of a lower quality than the F-35. Unlike the F-35, neither the J-31 nor the J-20 is an all aspect stealth design. The J-31's lack of both rcs reduction and IR protection on the engine nozzles makes it especially vulnerable (likely that final design will feature sawtooth engine nozzles similar to the J-20 for rcs reduction). The United States maintains a considerable edge in the manufacturing of high quality low maintenance RAM coatings (Air Power Australia, 2011). The F-35 will be stealthier, feature more powerful avionics, deliver comparable levels of maneuverability, and carry deadlier weaponry than its Chinese competitors. Overall, the F-35 delivers a robust performance against existing Chinese stealth fighter designs.  

For more information on the J-31, view the J-31 threat report part I article  (link)
For more information on the J-20, refer to the J-20 threat analysis  (link) article 

Unlike its Chinese counterparts, Russian aerospace firms have consistently demonstrated their ability to produce reliable high quality avionic components, jet engines, and weapon systems. 

"For the last half century, Russia has been the principle supplier of relatively low cost highly effective weapon systems throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. This trend has continued into the 21st century and shows no signs of weakening. India is scheduled to receive its own version of the PAK FA, the Sukohi/HAL FGFA. In total, India and Russia will possess a total of around 400 planes at around $100 million dollars each. Sukhoi hopes to export between 500-650 PAK FA's over the next few decades. (Global Security, 2010) If past Russian fighter export sales are any indication, it is almost certain that many nations within Africa and east Asia will receive the new jet. A Russian based think tank as determined that Vietnam is also likely to acquire the PAK FA (Jane's Defense Weekly, 2010)...For decades Russian aircraft designers have produced some of the world's best combat aircraft. In many cases, Russian engineers have built either comparable or superior air superiority platforms relative to their Western counterparts. The success of countries allied or affiliated with the United States during several of the proxy wars fought throughout the Cold War can largely be attributed to superior pilot training rather than vastly superior equipment in many cases. For example, during Operation Focus of the Six Day War, Israeli pilots flying the French built Mirage III interceptors were able to routinely dominate the formidable Mig 21's of several Arab air forces. When the pilot training advantage is taken away, dogfights between Western and Soviet/Russian aircraft becomes much closer. In several of the Indo-Pakistan conflicts, the Soviet equipped Indian Air Force kept toe to toe with the American supplied Pakistani Air Force. More recently, in joint exercises held by Germany with the United States in the 1990s, it became clear that with capable pilots flying the Mig 29, it could compete on even footing with the F-15C." - Threat Analysis of Foreign Stealth Fighters Part II, Mangler Muldoon, 2011

The PAK FA is the culmination of the Russian aerospace industry's best systems and components. The PAK FA represents a credible threat against the F-35. The PAK FA is stealthy enough to reach visual range engagements against the F-35. The F-35 will have a very narrow window in which it can detect the PAK FA without being detected in return by the PAK FA. Most estimations put the frontal rcs of the PAK FA at .01m^2 or -20 dBSM. The following is from Air Power Australia. 

Lightning II detects PAK FA with .01m^2 at ~30 nautical miles
PAK FA detects Lightning II with .001m^2 at ~28 nautical miles

Raptor detects PAK FA with .01m^2 at ~40 nautical miles
PAK FA detects Raptor with .0001m^2 at ~15 nautical miles

Once the PAK FA is within visual range, it will use its superior maneuverability to defeat the F-35. However, the PAK FA is not invulnerable. The current PAK FA design lacks both rcs and IR protection in the rear as the engine nozzles are completely exposed. American engineers also have more experience in designing sophisticated techniques used to liquid cool AESA radars. Without a reliable liquid cooling system, the on board AESA will generate high levels of heat. These design features will make it easier for the F-35's IRST will to spot the PAK FA from longer ranges. 

"The aircraft that flew today is a prototype - and it does not show visible features like a frameless canopy and panel alignment that you'd expect on a production aircraft. Other not-very-stealthy-looking features include the gaps around the inlet (compare the YF-23) and a spherical infrared search and track housing in front of the windshield. And, of course, the nozzles are round." - Bill Sweetman, 2010

Image 17: PAK FA rear. Note the lack of protection on the engine nozzles.

Despite the F-35's lower TR module count, the APG-81 will almost certainly have superior LPI mode capability than the PAK FA's radar. The F-35 will likely detect the emissions originating from the PAK FA radar. In a series of tests, the F-35's APG-81 radar was able to jam and track the F-22's highly capable APG-77 LPI enabled radar. Given these test results, its more than plausible for the F-35 to jam and track the PAK FA as well.

"In a series of tests at Edwards AFB, Calif., in 2009, Lockheed Martin’s CATbird avionics testbed—a Boeing 737 that carries the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s entire avionics system—engaged a mixed force of F-22s and Boeing F-15s and was able to locate and jam F-22 radars, according to researchers." - Aviation Week, 2011

Although the F-35's sensors are superior to the PAK FA, the F-35 is still vulnerable to the PAK FA. However, the 4.5 generation alternatives to the F-35 are (to use the technical term) toast when compared to the PAK FA. The best option for Canada is to train F-35 pilots against friendly F-22's in an effort to boost their 5th gen vs. 5th gen fighting abilities. The PAK FA and Raptor have similar levels of maneuverability performance. With superior pilots, more capable missiles, and more advanced avionics it is certainly possible for a CF-35 force to defeat a force of PAK FA's. But the PAK FA will retain the advantage and CF-35 casualties will be nearly guaranteed if the PAK FA's are flown by capable pilots. The unavoidable reality is the F-35 is the most capable Western fighter available for export. Unless Canada can pressure the U.S Government to allow F-22 exports, the CF-35 will have to do.

For a much more detailed report on the PAK FA, refer to the Pak Fa threat analysis (link) article. 

Lethality Summary

In summary, the lethality of the F-35 ("aggregate dog fighting ability") is superior to that of its 4.5 generation competitors. The F-35 design is inferior in many aspects of maneuverability performance when compared to the premier 4.5 generation designs e.g. Eurofighter Typhoon. However, the maneuverability performance is not so low as to jeopardize the F-35's dog fighting prowess when other factors are included. As with all other fighter aircraft, pilots will learn to capitalize on the relative strengths of their aircraft and employ tactics that mitigate the relative weakness of their aircraft. Dave Majumdar explains how the F-35 will deal with more maneuverable opponents. 

"Pilots will have to make extensive use of the F-35's stealth characteristics and sensors to compensate for performance areas where the jet has weaknesses, sources familiar with the aircraft say. But engagement zones and maneuvering ranges will most likely be driven even further out against the most dangerous surface-to-air threats. In an air-to-air engagement, for example, tactics would have to be developed to emphasize stealth and beyond visual range (BVR) combat. If a visual range engagement is unavoidable, every effort would have to be taken to enter the 'merge' from a position of advantage, which should be possible, given the F-35's stealth characteristics. Once engaged within visual range, given the F-35's limitations and relative strengths, turning should be minimized in favor of using the jet's Northrop Grumman AAQ-37 distributed aperture system of infrared cameras, helmet-mounted display and high off-boresight missiles to engage the enemy aircraft. If a turning fight is unavoidable, the F-35 has good instantaneous turn performance and good high angle of attack (50°AOA limit) performance comparable to a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which means a similar strategy could be adopted if one finds him or herself in such a situation."    

The F-35 will be able to engage future Chinese stealth aircraft on favorable terms. The greatest concern to the F-35 will be the PAK FA which can more easily reach visual range combat with the F-35 than other potential adversaries. The F-35 is vulnerable to the PAK FA but not helpless. Pilot training and intelligence information will be needed to effectively combat the PAK FA without higher than acceptable JSF losses.

Penetration of an Enemy IADS (3)

      The future IADS of most non-western nation’s will largely be composed of the S-300 system. Currently, most developing world nations operate the S-200 and HAWK SAM systems. Operating and maintain a SAM system is much cheaper and less technically demanding than assembling an air force. Kopp challenges the F-35's effectiveness against SAM systems (especially the S-400).  

      Kopp's concerns are partially justified. The reason why the S-400 SAM system is a potential risk to the F-35 is due to its use of VHF radars. The physics behind the Raleigh scattering regime is very complicated. For the sake of brevity, the key ability of VHF radars is their improved capability to detect very low observable targets (e.g. stealth aircraft). Only very large stealth aircraft like the B-2 can effectively operate without risk of VHF array detection for sustained periods (Air Power Australia, 2012). 

      "Low band radars are not a panacea for the defeat of VLO (Very Low Observable) aircraft. Their angular accuracy has been until recently poor, and the required antenna size results in ungainly systems which are usually slow to deploy and stow, even if designed from the outset for mobility. The size and high power emissions of these radars, in types with limited mobility, makes them much easier to detect and destroy than typical mobile systems operating in the decimetric and centimetric bands, which can relocate rapidly after a missile shot." - Air Power Australia, 2012

      The consensus among analysts is VHF radar has the potential to detect stealth aircraft but operationally  it is less than practical  On a best case scenario the VHF array's within the S-400 system would provide a type of early warning. In the worst case senario, VHF radars could be used to help the S-400 missiles home in on low observable targets with the use of a mid-course uplink system. However, the mid course uplink could be jammed fairly easily to reduce its effectiveness. If the mid course uplink system is jammed, the missile will have a much more difficult time finding the target or won't be able to find it at all. 
      Furthermore no nation aside from Russia has plans to acquire it (China has indicated it desires the S-400 but a deal is unlikely due to Russian concerns of intellectual property violation). The primary operator, Russia, does not field a large number of S-400 batteries. China might field a comparable system to the S-400 a decade from now. Only the very best equipped militaries (S-400 comparable standard or above) will pose any risk to the F-35. While Kopps argument concerning the risk of VHF radars is legitimate, his arguments concerning the F-35's low stealth performance in other radar bands is largely mistaken. The F-35 design is optimized to provide protection from the X and S bands which are the primary frequencies used by both fighter aircraft and SAM systems.  

     Kopp does not believe the F-35 low observability characteristics are sufficient for it to penetrate the defenses of S-300 guarded airspace. The size of the rear aspect determines how far the stealth aircraft can fly into enemy airspace and leave safely. The rear aspect of a stealth aircraft is almost always larger than its front aspect. A reasonable estimation of the F-35's rear rcs is .01m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2012). Furthermore, in his scenario depicted below, the F-35 utilizes the comparability short range SDB instead of the AGM-154 JSOW (Joint Standoff Weapon). The use of the SDB is inaccurate as one always prefers to minimize the time a SAM radar can track the aircraft (e.g. stay farther away). Furthermore, Canada has yet to acquire the SDB system (unlike the JSOW). 

    Graphic 2: All credit and ownership to Air Power Australia 

      In Kopp's graphic, the F-35 gets destroyed even in the best case scenario while using an SDB II against the S-300 site. Once again, the use of the SDB II is the reason why the F-35 is intercepted. The AGM-154 JSOW has a standoff range of approximately 70 nautical miles (Raytheon, 2013) vs the APA cited 40 nautical mile SDB II range (SDB I has 60 nautical miles range). The image below shows the detection ranges of the various X band based radars in the S-300 system in addition to some PLA array designs. One of the most capable X band arrays used in the S-300 system is the 30N61E1 "Tomb Stone" engagement radar. (Note: The NATO reporting name SA-20 denotes S-300, SA-21 indicates the S-400 system) 

   Graphic 3: X-band radar arrays utilized by Russia and China. All credit and ownership to Air Power Australia 

      Even the high power Tomb stone and the improved 92N61 used in the S-400 system cannot detect the rear aspect of the F-35 at the 70 nautical mile stand off range. Along the X axis, it is clear that at point .01m^2, the F-35 is undetectable. The JSOW allows the F-35 to comfortably destroy the S-300 and S-400 (X band) arrays with a safe zone approximately between 45-70 nautical miles. The F-35 can even use the SDB I to destroy the array provided the cited Boeing figures are accurate

      Image 18: The AGM-154 JSOW is a long range GPS guided glide bomb. The F-35 can accommodate two AGM-154 bombs internally in addition to two air to air missiles. In a mission to disable enemy air defenses, some F-35's would carry the JSOW while others would provide escort with a full load of air to air missiles. 

      The F-35 provides the highest degree of survivability of any export fighter on the market today. Any possible 4.5 generation alternative to the F-35 (e.g. JAS 39 Gripen, F/A-18E, Eurofighter, etc.) would stand a demonstrably lower chance of penetrating an advanced IADS when compared to the F-35. Even with both the following factors: lower stealth characteristics due to export variant and lingering stealth performance concerns considered, the F-35 would have an rcs that is an entire order of magnitude smaller than its 4.5 generation counterparts. Despite the inclusion of a reduced radar cross sections and electronic counter measure pods into many 4.5 generation designs, upgraded derivatives of the S-300 will easily track and intercept a force of non-stealth targets. The inclusion of wing mounted weapons will eliminate much of the advantage gained from a reduced radar cross section. Hence the use of internal bays on true stealth aircraft. For example, if a Eurofighter was sent to destroy a S-400 site (frontal rcs of 1m^2) it would have to: dart from ~130-70 nautical miles, release its payload, and then fly the gauntlet of 70-130+ nautical miles again (rear rcs is larger) to return home. Even with the usage of dedicated SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) aircraft, 4.5 generation fighters will not have a high chance of returning home in a S-300 and S-400 guarded airspace.  

      If an adversary operates a VHF equipped S-400 or comparable system, stealthier American assistance in the form of B-2’s, F-22’s, and the next generation bomber will be provided to destroy the S-400 or S-500 missile sites. Canada can rest assured knowing it will receive American aid in a time of war. In summary,the export F-35 can deal with the S-200, S-300, and elements of the S-400. Usage of an on-board jamming system can potentially deny the usage of a mid-course uplink system. This will further increase the F-35s survivability against the S-400 system. The few S-400 and S-500 sites will likely be targeted by American forces. 

Survivability & Air to Ground 

    Image 19: F-35 number AA-1 undergoing live fire testing at the China lake facility. (Image Credit:Joint Aircraft Survivability Office)

      The F-35's survivability in a close air support role is currently jeopardized. In a stunning display of foresight and wisdom, Lockheed Martin decided “to trim 11 pounds and $1.4 million from each aircraft by removing shutoff valves for engine coolant and hydraulic lines and five of six dry bay fire-suppression systems”. These changes will render the F-35 incredibly vulnerable to fire related damage. Any sensible cost benefit analysis of this measure indicates that keeping the shutoff valves and fire suppression systems is well worth the 1.4 million dollar cost. The the Joint Aircraft Survivability Office conducted a series of tests and concluded fire was the most hazardous risk to the F-35. 

"ballistic testing was conducted on AA-1 from October 2010 to September 2011. A total of 25 ballistic tests were completed. during 16 of these tests the aircraft was in a FUSL configuration: engine on, aircraft operating on internal power. Threats in the test program included surface to air warhead fragments, armor piercing projectiles, high explosive projectiles, and a MANPAd…The FUSL testing conducted on AA-1 was very successful meeting all defined test objectives and success criteria. Addressing synergistic effects, the electrical power and flight control systems successfully isolated failures and protected the redundancies built into these systems, allowing continued safe flight. The VSN architecture is robust, providing multiple paths to transfer data. Testing highlighted that fire is a significant threat to flight critical systems. The test team was able to verify that the actual ballistic damage response correlated very well to previous pilot in the loop simulator testing. Over the course of the test program, the LFT team witnessed firsthand the robustness of the F35 flight critical systems, no cheap system kills." - Joint Aircraft Survivability Office

Aside from fire concerns, the F-35 design preformed well according to the Joint Aircraft Survivability Office. The F-35 design features redundant actuators,back up power modes and the VSN (vehicle system network). If the VSN software detects damaged components it will reconfigure communication with other components on either side of the damaged area to insure continual operation of the aircraft. No further updates on the re installation of the shutoff valves has occurred since the initial announcement last year. It is likely pragmatism will succeed and the shutoff valves will be re-installed. Provided this occurs, the F-35 provides excellent survivability against a wide variety of threats including ground based cannon fire.
 The F-35 should be able to deliver an excellent COIN performance. Accurate delivery of air to ground based munitions is a task the F-35’s excels in. The F-35’s design philosophy puts a slightly greater emphasis on air to ground missions than air to air missions. Due to its planned widespread use, the F-35 is able to accommodate nearly every aircraft mountable munition in the Western arsenal from the stealthy naval strike missile to the small diameter bomb (SDM). The F-35 can carry 12  SDM internally. This grants the F-35 the ability to destroy more targets that nearly any other strike fighter. In COIN operations, stealth is less of a priority. This allows the F-35 to utilize its full 18,000 lb (8,100 kg) payload capacity

Image 20: Full list of F-35 weapons with exception of CUDA and Naval Strike Missile.
Image 21: The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is a high performance low observable anti-ship missile (below). The F-35 can carry two NSM internally.

PART II: Canada's Alternatives  

Although Canada has no plans to purchase 4.5 generation aircraft at this time, many opponents of the CF-35 program have advocated for the purchase of one of the following: JAS 39 Gripen NG, Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-15SE, and the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Each of the 4.5 generation alternatives will be briefly described in terms of benefits and disadvantages in relation to the CF-35. These aircraft are among the highest quality 4.5 generation fighter designs available to Western air forces. 

Saab JAS 39 NG Gripen 

The JAS 39 Gripen is a world class single engine 4.5 generation aircraft initially developed to replace Sweden's Saab-35 and Saab-37. The Gripen is one of the earliest examples of a 4.5 generation fighter and is in active service with the South African Air Force, Swedish Air Force, Czech Air Force, Hungarian Air Force, and the Royal Thailand Air Force. A proposed variant of the Gripen, the JAS 39E or next generation Gripen (NG), has been ordered by the Swiss Government. The first deliveries of the JAS 39 NG will occur in 2018 (Flight Global, 2013) 
Advantages : 

Although the JAS 39 is maneuverable and can carry a wide assortment of capable weapons, the main allure the Gripen has over its competitors is its low cost. Most comparable Western 4.5 generation fighters cost between the $60-120+ million. The Gripen costs between 40-60 million depending on the variant. (Defense Industry Daily, 2013) The Gripen also has substantially lower operating costs than its peers. The author estimates Jas 39 NG will cost between 75-80 million dollars.

Disadvantages: The principle disadvantage of the JAS 39 is its lack of stealth. Despite the Gripen's reduced radar cross section and electronic countermeasures, the Gripen would be unable to penetrate an IADS equipped with the S-300 SAM system. This would make Canada dependent on the stealth capabilities of other NATO allies. Furthermore, Canada is set to retire its fleet of CF-18's by 2019. Its not clear if Saab has the manufacturing capacity to deliver a sizable order of JAS 39 NG aircraft by 2019 given the prioritization of the Swiss and Swedish orders. The Swedish Air Force will not receive its first next generation Gripens until 2023. Canada could order an older variant of the Gripen at the cost of much reduced capabilities. The current Gipen features an ESA radar and only 8 weapon pylons.

 Dasualt Rafale F3

Background:  “It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice cane down to one of paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or loosing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France had generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.“(Defense Industry Daily, 2012)

Advantages: Of all the European 4.5 generation designs, the Rafale is arguably the most combat tested. French Rafales participated in both Operation Unified Protector and ongoing operations in Mali. The reduced radar cross section and sophisticated SPECTRA electronic counter measure systems gives the Rafale superior survivability when compared to legacy 4th generation aircraft.

Disadvantages: The Rafale is not substantially cheaper than the F-35. The unit cost of the Rafale is in the $90-120 million range depending on the variant. (Source 73) The Rafale costs slightly less than the Eurofighter but it costs significantly more than cheaper 4.5 generation aircraft like the Gipen or F/A-18E.  Overall, its performance characteristics are arguably slightly lower than the Eurofighter. Thus, the Rafale performance and price effectively puts it in a void. Rich gulf states opt to pick the Eurofighter as they have the necessary funds. Budget tight air forces prefer cheaper 4.5 generation alternatives. Dassault has yet to secure a contract for Rafale exports. The Rafale's victory over the Eurofighter in the MMCRA is questionable. Many observers believe Dassualt low balled its price estimations at the last minute. Ongoing Indian investigations have effectively put the MMRCA on hold.
Another point of concern is avionics. The EU is behind the United States in terms of AESA radar technology. The first Thales built AESA (RBE2-AA AESA) was recently equipped to operation squadrons last year. As with the Gipen, the Rafale will not fare well against the S-300 SAM system. In Libya French forces were dependent upon U.S stealth bombers and cruise missiles to destroy enemy S-200 sites before engaging their own targets.  Another concern is a Canadian Rafale would have to undergo modifications to carry U.S made munitions as it is currently in cable of carrying much of Canada's existing stocks of weapons.

For a more detailed look at the Rafale, refer to the MMRCA article

Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 3A

Background: "The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine 'teen series' fighters" - Defense Industry Daily, 2013

 Advantages: The Eurofighter consortium set out to design an indigenous 4.5 generation design to fulfill the needs of European air forces. If dogfighting ability was the sole performance qualifier, the Eurofighter would rank within the top two spots on this list of 4.5 generation aircraft. The Eurofighter delivers superb maneuverability and handling characteristics. The Eurofighter Tranche 3A features a highly capable IRST and HMD system. Although the Metor does not have the range of the AIM-120D, it is cheaper and still delivers high performance.

Disadvantages: The Eurofighter Typhoon is not significantly cheaper than the F-35. The price of the Tranche 3A version is around $130 million. The current Tranche 3A version does not feature an AESA radar. Plans to upgrade the Eurofighter with AESA array's are underway but the retrofit will be costly. As stated previously, the EU does not have the same level of experience in designing AESA arrays. During Operation Unified Protector (Odyssey Dawn) RAF Eurofighters had to wait until American stealth bombers and cruise missiles neutralized the Libyan IADS before executing their strike missions.

Boeing F-15SE

Background: The F-15SE is the latest variant in the evolution of the most successful fighter aircraft since World War II. The F-15 boasts an exceptional 104-0 kill ratio, the highest of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-15 inspired an entire generation of aircraft and became the world standard in maneuverability, lethality and advanced avionics. The proposed F-15SE design is a heavily modified version of the F-15E strike eagle. Boeing has submitted the F-15SE as a contender in the $7.3 billion dollar KX-III competition against the F-35 and Eurofighter.  

Advantages: Of all the 4.5 generation aircraft on the list, the F-15SE arguably delivers the best performance. The Silent Eagle's unique frontal stealth ability will greatly increase its survivability against both other aircraft and to some extent enemy air defense systems. A beneficiary side effect of the usage of internal weapons bays is greatly reduced drag. In a clean configuration, the standard F-15E is described by pilots as a "monster". Another pilot remarked the clean configuration F-15E can even give the Raptor a run for its money (Flight Global, 2011) The F-15SE will carry the most powerful fighter radar in the world (not including the F-22), the 1,500 TR element APG-63 (V)4 (APG-82) AESA radar. The APG-82 will greatly aid the F-15SE in detecting low observable targets like the PAK FA. The United States plans to use the F-15E in conjunction with the Raptor. The APG-82 will spot targets for the Raptors while they remain nearly undetectable and approach their targets with their radars turned off. (Danger Room, 2011) F-15SE will also be equipped with a third generation IRST and helmet mounted cueing system. Arguably the greatest asset of the F-15SE is its immense payload capacity: up to 23,000 lb (10,454.5 kg). F-15E series also has an incredible unrefueled combat radius of 1,000  nautical miles (1,800 km)

Disadvantages: It is important to note the stealth qualities of the F-15SE only pertain to the front aspect of the aircraft. It is more accurate to describe the aircraft as low observable rather than as a stealth aircraft.  From the rear and side aspects the F-15SE is vulnerable to detection. Furthermore, the F-15SE does not feature IR reduction methods in its design. Boeing claims "the F-15SE will offer a degree of stealth in the early days of a conflict through the use of conformal weapons bays. These can be removed after enemy air defenses have been suppressed" - (Flight Global, 2012). An aircraft's ability to enter an airspace protected by SAM's is determined by its rear rcs which is almost always larger than other aspects of the aircraft. The aircraft has to be able to get within weapons range, deliver its payload and leave safely. The unprotected rear of the F-15SE means it would be unable to penetrate deep into an enemy's country equipped with the S-300 without assistance from other assets. Furthermore, In its low observable configuration, the F-15SE can only carry four air to air missiles internally. However, this is off set by the F-15SE's excellent maneuverability. The performance of the F-15SE comes at a cost, upwards of at least $100 million (for standard F-15E variant). The F-15SE is likely in the $125-130+ million dollar range. Aside from a mock up and standard F-15E demonstrator with internal weapon bay doors, no actual physical prototype of the F-15SE exists as of yet. 

Boeing F/A-18E, F/A-18F, EA-18G

F/A-18E Block II shown in India 

Advantages: The F/A-18E offers a high level performance at an affordable unit cost of $79.5 million. Integration of the Super Hornet from the CF-18 would be less challenging than other aircraft on the list. The Super Hornet features a reduced radar cross section, AESA radar, high weapons payload (17,750 lb or 8,668 kg), joint helmet mounted cueing system, and good maneuverability  Block II upgrades will built upon the Super Hornet's already impressive capabilities. Proposed Block II upgrades during the MMRCA included the integration of an internal IRST system, more powerful engines, conformal fuel tanks, and a minimal drag stealth pod. Many regard the F/A-18E as the most formidable challenger to the CF-35 acquisition program. 

Disadvantages: As with the other 4.5 generation designs, the F/A-18E is not stealth. With the inclusion of the stealth pod, the frontal rcs of the Super Hornet is likely around 1m^2. However, its rear rcs remains vulnerable. Furthermore, the stealth pod's internal capacity is low. 


  1. Well done article.

    I'm a Canadian who actually supports this program.

    I was interested in the differences the Canadian version will have regarding stealth and situational awareness tech. I've read the CF version would be less stealthy. ( boo to this considering we can't get the Raptor). Also the helmet gods eye view would not be included. Fact or fiction?

    If the f35 turns out to be identical I say we could use more than just 65.

    How has is plane tested in arctic weather? Concerns about stealth paint not lasting long have not been fully explained in any official source that I can find.

    Perhaps a better explanation of single engine fighters surviving weather and combat might help convince naysayers.

    Canadians are led to believe the f18 was chosen over the f 16 because of the 2 engines. It's my understanding the real reason was canada would get to build parts helping industry but needed an excuse to choose the lesser plane.

    1. In Poland we have F-16 Block 52+, Mig 29 mark 9-12, Su-22 M4.
      Mig-29 is safer because it has two engines
      I guess what is most ready for action? Mig-29 and Su-22.The planes take off from an ordinary road. No need to clean hangars, no need clean off runway. The engine does not suck dirts in Mig-29. In war, it is very important for countries such as Poland.
      F-16 is a lot of problems, we have it 5 years and it was better to buy Mig 29M2. We can not buy a HARM missile, AIDEWS does not work for five years.

      If the F-35 has so many faults and flaws as the new F-16 block 52, it is better to buy the Su-35 or Su-30. How do you have 200 F-35 is not a problem as you have a 50 to a tragedy.

      Your experience fighting a battle with the technically backward countries. Russian anti-aircraft and radar systems still retain a high level of development. The export versions do not have all the detection capabilities.

      Unfortunately, I think that the Russian PAK-FA will have greater reliability than the F-35.

      American offset in Poland is a total failure. Overall, the Polish - American cooperation does not meet Polish expectations.

      I'm afraid that after the withdrawal of Russian aircraft Polish Air Force will lose any value.

      Greetings from Poland

    2. I'm not an expert on the polish air force. But what I can tell you is part of the problem (with Polish F-16's) is the over reliance on American personnel to preform maintenance duties. Poland is trying to get its own maintenance facility up and running.

      To be frank, the maintenance problems with the F-35 are overblown. People don't realize the point of testing and development is to FIND problems with the aircraft in the first place. As far as troubled design projects go, the F-35 is certainly not the worst offender. The F-14 program lost several prototype aircraft but Northrup Grumman eventually ironed out the issues and ended up with a very successful aircraft. American development programs are much more transparent than their Russian counterparts. For example, virtually no design problem information (little info in general) on the PAK FA has been released. It is unreasonable to assume everything is going perfectly for the Russians as well, they just don't talk about it publicly. Building a 5th generation fighter is among the toughest engineering feats out there, problems will arise during development.

      I understand your concern about the American offset. I don't speak on behalf of the U.S government but honestly American leaders are not paying much attention to Europe these days (at least militarily). NATO is an artifact of the Cold War. It is no longer in the best interest of the United States to continue to invest in. Only 5 out of the 26 nation member alliance spend the target of 2% of GDP on defense. Many of us (Americans) feel Europe isn't doing its fair share and we don't like giving out free rides. I understand Poland is a strong military ally to the United States and we are very grateful for your contributions in the war on terror. But the reality is, China rise is making the U.S and many other nations uneasy. The pivot to the Pacific takes priority over the Polish offset. I don't like saying this, but relative to what the U.S once was, America is not as powerful. Unfortunately for Europe, as China continues to grow as a strategic competitor to the United States, we won't be as involved in Poland. Its the sad truth. As a side note, I'm fairly critical over Obama's reset policy and I view it to be a near total failure. Putin is unreasonable, we could have worked with Dmitry Medvedev.

    3. Firstly, we do not want anything for free.

      When the planes hit the World Trade Center, America received condolences from all over the world. Bath, when the Americans provoked under false pretenses II Gulf War who sent the troops(To this day, in Iraq there is no trace of nuclear weapons)?
      Three countries...United Kingdom, Australia and Poland. ONLY THREE STATES
      It was a real support at the time of the U.S. threat(Political support, military support, military intelligence support ).
      How will America once again a war, we have to support it in this situation?

      So how do I buy a plane with the equipment, it is to be effective all.
      When I get a plane as a gift, I take it, and I have no objections. We got two F-16 wrecks to train painting. For them there is no objection.

      There is a joke, in the Polish professional aviation forum:"Why the F-16 block 52 is called the Advanced? In the Mig-29 and Su-22 computer shoot the flares, and F-16 pilot must remember to launch it only manually. Therefore, the F-16 is more advanced for pilot."

      Hence the fear that the F-35 as an export product may be defective, as the F-16.
      It's pure business approach.
      I have to buy F-35 defective, or Su-35, Eurofighter, Rafaele or Saab NG full functional?
      What do you choose?

      Best regards

      P.s. I'm sorry, I'm going to sleep with me is 1.00 nam the night.

    4. Ultimately, if the F-35 fails the United States will pay the highest price. We've sacrificed the F-22 and many other programs to get the F-35 on track. The U.S plans to buy 2,243 of them for $396 billion dollars. It is is firmly in the best interest of the United States to ensure the F-35 is as capable as it can be. If it doesn't work out, we'll be stuck with all of them and ALL branches of the U.S military will be weaker for it. That is not going to happen.

      The mature F-35 design four to five years from now will be much more capable than any of the 4.5 generation aircraft you mentioned. As you can see in the article, I've thoroughly explained why 4.5 generation fighters are inferior to the F-35. None of them can get past a S-300 let alone a S-400 SAM system (Russia's got a lot of em). In a dogfight, the F-35 is more than capable against Flankers. Only the PAK FA will be giving Polish F-35's trouble (in a war with Russia the U.S would almost certainly send Raptors to aid you guys and F-35 isn't defenseless). The only aircraft that would be better for Poland other than the F-35 is the F-22 (which is not going to happen as both production has ended and there is an export ban in place).

      As a side note, I'm not sure why your F-16's aren't that great. American F-16's have preformed well in combat as have Israeli F-16's against many of the jets the Russians still operate (albeit watered down export versions). I don't know the extent in which your pilots are trained but the Russians don't train the pilots exceptionally well. For example, the Russians have 100 required flight hours per year vs. U.S is about 300 flight hours per year. If Poland has similar standards (plus you guys continue to participate in our war games e.g. red flag) then you will certainly have a pilot training advantage. Pilot training is every bit as importance as the capabilities of the actual jet.

    5. Unfortunately, we have American standards of training f-16 pilots. All Polish F-16 pilots are trained in the U.S.It would be better to have Israeli standards.
      Here's a nice video of the conditions of operations in Poland.So once trained pilots before it was Americanization of aviation.
      The F-16 is so far impossible. Thisis in the woods on a normal road.In the first hours of the war, we lose all runways. Tell me how you start F-16 and F-35?

      I do not know if you are aware of the fact that S-300 and S-400 can destroy the Su-22 in 1984 made, after modernization:

      With RBS or NSM missiles. And this is an old airplane.
      This upgrade is not made, the planes are being phased out.
      It's quite a complex issue, so I will not explain it.

      Mig-31 BM was adjusted to fight the F-22 Raptor in 2007(Start program.
      The experiments were conducted in the shooting of the Mig-31 over long distances to the target as the Mig-21.
      Do you know how far Mig-21 was shot down? 230km
      You have such weapons in the U.S. arsenal? Maneuver missiles 8g at distances up to 200km?

    6. If you are referring to the R-37 missile launched from a Mig 31, it’s a counter ISR missile. The R-37 is ill suited to taking on a stealth aircraft. The U.S has the AIM-120D which is 160km range capable and can handle highly maneuverable targets. I doubt the Mig 31 would stand much chance against a Raptor. Even the Pak Fa’s AESA radar won’t spot the Raptor until it’s too late (15 nautical miles or 27.78km). You can’t kill what you can’t see. Russia has a habit of making outlandish claims in regards to its equipment performance. For example, Russia claimed its Mig 1.44 demonstrator was as stealthy as or stealthier than the F-22 Raptor. Karlo Kopp, an analyst who traditionally favors Russian equipment in his reports, noted that in every way the Russian claim was categorically incorrect and false. While Russia has many capable systems that are either highly competitive or superior to their American counterparts, it’s important to assess and evaluate each of Russia’s military capabilities and equipment in an objective manner (e.g. based on actual combat history and performance). For example, in the 2008 South Ossetia War, the quality of Russia’s lack of C2 (command and control) capabilities became obvious. Russia “won” the war but it should have been a one way clobbering fest like Gulf War I, it was not. There was even an incident of a Russian commander having to commandeer a reporter’s satellite phone in order to give instructions to his forces as the Russian C2 infrastructure was so abysmal. Dmitry Medvedev himself has acknowledged the problem.
      With all due respect, American pilot training is among the best in the world. Only the Israeli’s can claim to be better (they have more air to air experience but we’ve got a lot of combat experience as well). I’d recommend you read my article on aggressor squadrons for more information.

    7. Continued...
      Like I’ve said, I’m not an expert in the Polish military (thanks for the videos by the way they were pretty neat). But I have read a number of reports that conclude repairing runways (even when heavily damaged) can be done in a matter of hours provided you have the right equipment in place prior to an attack.
      “Runways and taxiways are inherently exposed and thus also attractive targets. Because runways and taxiways can be rapidly repaired given adequate earthmoving machinery, personnel, and materials, most targeteers regard damage inflicted to runways and taxiways to be temporary and will plan to reattack frequently enough to keep an airbase closed. In the battle for the control of the air, an initial play would be to cut runways and taxiways to bottle up aircraft in shelters or revetments, with subsequent sorties planned to pick off the stranded aircraft…Mindful of this military engineers soon evolved techniques to make this strategy difficult to execute. Redundant runways, the use of longer runways than otherwise required, the use of taxiways as auxiliary runways, and variously redundant taxiway schemes were adopted. Mostly the aim of these was to force an opponent to deploy a much larger number of munitions to effect a shutdown of flying operations at such a base… Other techniques to harden airbase surfaces included the use of specialised concrete compositions, which would include aggregates or additives to increase the toughness of the concrete, making it harder to fracture even with a specialised runway busting munition. The Soviets used blast furnace slag extensively for high strength concretes.” – Karlo Kopp Air Power Australia
      RAND (an American think tank) recommended Taiwan harden its air bases in a similar manner to what Kopp describes plus the addition of GPS jamming equipment. Poland should do should do the same. GPS jamming would deny the Russians usage of GLONASS and thus many precision guided munitions (PGUs). They could still use laser guided PGUs but they typically have less range (no preprogramed coordinates) and internal navigation systems are not nearly as accurate as laser or GPS guided munitions. The usage of hardened concrete in conjunction with GPS jamming would severely limit the number of munitions the Russian air force could accurately bear against hardened aircraft shelters and runways.
      As a side note, the F-35B is more than capable of working in the conditions you described. One of the requirements for the F-35B is the ability to operate from lower quality short runways (and vertically if need be) for the US Marines. Nothing I saw from what you sent me would indicate the F-35B would be incapable of operating under those conditions.

    8. These films are from the old air training. This tactic comes from the experience 01.09.1939, from the beginning of World War II. In the military airports in Poland were only defective and old airplanes. All 300 fighters and bombers escaped destruction.They fought until 17.09. when the Russians attacked us.When the ground airport lost, about 120 aircraft flew to Romania. Anyone who did not apply, ends as aircraft in Pearl Harbour.One attack and 190 aircraft destroyed, 150 damaged.

      You're building a big model airplane, and to set in the runway. Air base is lost, but the enemy for a long time to shoot it.The same tactics they used in the old Yugoslavia Serbian army. At the airport were old Mig-21 PFM and Migi-29 made ​​of wood. Unfortunately, when the enemy has the upper hand, you do not rebuild airports.

      What to detect and destroy stealth aircrafts, we armed the same missile system S-125 Newa, the one who shot down the F-117. Our system is more advanced, fully digital, more mobile.The old Neva has been launcher and rockets. The same S-200 Wega, she is full digital. We know, how Serbs detected and shot down your stealth.The Russians know that too. And that was a long time ago, since that time are considerable progress in detecting stelth. And that was a long time ago, since that time are considerable progress in detecting stelth.I know that the f-117 is the aircraft of another generation than the F-22.

      In my opinion the F-22 is currently the best aircraft in its class. But it is not indestructible. The effective reflecting surface in F-22 with the approach of growing and it greatly. Stealth properties depend on the location of the radar.
      Air Power Australia - This page is not very reliable.

      Aircraft missiles for PAK FA "first step" Piotr Butowski 2011:

      ...In September 2011, the Internet "leaked" - do not know how much by accident, and how much in a controlled manner - a few pages of documentation beams catapulted UWKU-50, intended for suspension of arms in the inner chamber of the next generation fighter PAK FA (T-50). There are two versions of the catapult: light UWKU-50L for missiles, rockets and bombs weighing up to 300 kg, and universal UWKU-50U, allows suspending a payload of up to 700 kg...

      ...Product 180 and 180PD
      In Russia, there are several parallel systems of signs of military equipment, including air weapons. Typically, the designation of "izdielije" (product) are open. And yes, izdielije 180 is explicit designation of a new guided missile "air-to-air" medium-range K-77M, which arises in the design office in Moscow Wympieł. It is known that the work on the K-77M has been ongoing for many years (he was still in the list of weapons the MiG 1.42 twenty years ago ...), but so far it exists only in the form of mock-ups. K-77M (izdielije 180) is a deep modernization of the missile R-77 (izdielije 170) with a new, two-pulse motor with variable pause between pulses (R-77 has one engine switching) modernized and with an active homing head...

      Here's a description of the mig-31 old version. You can use Google Translator. You copy short passages in a translator:

      Here it is in English( Piotr Butowski):

      These are old but very interesting articles for you

      "...A particularly interesting effect, declared by the manufacturers, is the ability to detect the station Veils stealth objects already in a distance of several kilometers. Perhaps this is a result of the appropriate signal shaping or - less likely - improved information exchange system allows the radar to work in the system group MiG-31 in static multi system when one of the aircraft serves as a transmitter and another receiver probing, allowing you to capture the signals reflected from the object in the directions of the reach of conventional systems. (see PKL4 - F117 A)

      I hope you will like these articles. Then I will answer the f-35

    9. Thanks for the articles they were good reads. I’ve read a lot about Russian and Soviet fighter aircraft designs but I haven’t read that much about interceptors, pretty interesting. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the Mig 31 outside its role of countering the B-1B or its differences from the Mig 25. I’m still not entirely sure how the Mig 31 would be able to effectively counter stealth aircraft through. I read the bit on the Mig 31 radar but I still am not confident it could detect an F-22 or F-35 from the frontal aspect at a significant range. It’s possible that the older F-117 could be detected a few km out but the rcs of both the Raptor and JSF are considerably smaller than that of the retired F-117. The Raptor has a frontal rcs of around .0001m^2 & .0015m^2 JSF vs .025m^2 F-117. The difference is more than an entire order of magnitude in both cases. Even from the rear aspect both aircraft have a smaller rcs than the Nighthawk.

      (In regards to the SAM systems): Despite what it Russian defense officials might say in regard to their ability to counter stealth aircraft, they clearly do not have complete faith in their ability to do so at this time. I agree with you that stealth is certainly not a fool proof technology. However, if stealth technology was really so easy to counter, why is Russia set to spend billions of dollars on multiple stealth aircraft designs over the next decade (e.g. PAK FA, PAK DA, Mikoyan LMFS)? If the Russians truly believed in their ability to counter stealth with a combination of VHF radars, IRST, and newer SAM systems, they would not have invested this substantially in stealth technology. The West could conceivably adopt a similar strategy to counter Russian stealth technology using the same principles. The technology utilized in “counter stealth” technology is much less sophisticated than the technology required to build stealth aircraft in the first place. Clearly Russia’s strategic planners do not believe stealth is so easy to counter (they’re not dumb unlike a lot of Russian internet fanboys). It’s important not to overstate the significance of stealth but the technology brings many advantages to the battlefield. In regards to the 1999 F-117 incident, this is an isolated case that was never duplicated. In order to effectively counter stealth (or any new technology), you need to be able to do it several times on a consistent basis. Only one stealth aircraft has ever been shot down over 30 years of continuous military service, that is not consistency. Neither the Iraqis (1991 & 2003) nor the Libyans (2011) were able to reduplicate the feat of the Serbs in 1999. VHF radars, more powerful IRST and the newer SAM systems will erode the potency of a stealth technology but not stop it. Bear in mind, as “counter stealth” technologies advance, stealth technology advances as well (The F-117 is comparatively primitive to the B-2 and the B-2 is comparatively primitive to the Next Generation Bomber or LSRB). No single silver bullet technique has been found to counter stealth technology. A stealth fighter is still the best means to counter another stealth fighter at this time; Russia’s procurement portfolio reflects this reality. Continued below…

    10. Continued…
      I would agree with your point however about airbase vulnerabilities. A fleet of stealth aircraft does not do you much good if they are destroyed by comparatively cheap cluster munition strike or surprise air strike. RAND did a study which concluded that a few relatively inexpensive Chinese cluster munition equipped short range ballistic missiles would be capable of destroying or disabling much of America’s aircraft based at Kadena AFB Japan in the opening hours of a war. A large scale air strike or missile attack can destroy a lot of parked aircraft but it’s not quite so simple. For example, at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese left American fuel depots relatively unscathed and failed to destroy the American aircraft carriers based there (they weren’t in port that day). Pearl Harbor was certainly not the deathblow the Japanese were looking for. The effect of cluster munitions or a heavy air strike can be mitigated by the techniques I listed in the previous comment (hardening airbases and shelters, anti-GPS equipment, etc.). Plus, Poland does have Patriot and Aegis support. Before you tell me how bad Patriot is, it’s really not that bad (seriously this issue has been beaten to death by other authors, its effective so long as the SRBM does not feature extensive counter measure systems e.g. its effective against SCUDs). It will reduce the damage of a large scale SRBM strike but it’s not going to stop one. Newer counter measure equipped missiles like the 9K720 Iskander will get through if launched in large numbers but the techniques I listed in the previous comment will mitigate their damage and accuracy. Many reports conclude that hardened air fields can be repaired in a few hours it’s not just Air Power Australia. It can be done provided you are not over run on the ground. If this is the case, operating from highways as you mentioned is certainly more viable. In regards to your example with airports, I don’t have any knowledge about sustaining combat operations from an airport so I can neither agree nor disagree. However, the F-35B is more than capable of operating from highways and under the conditions you specified.

    11. We do not have a choice and buy the F-35, even as if they were full of flaws.

      I think that we will have the possibility to participate in the modernization of the Eurofighter. Then you have the source codes, you better have a little inferior machine. How do you have a potential for interference with the plane is really you can do with it what you want.
      We ourselves modernize its MiG-29 and Su-22, without the help of the manufacturer.
      We ourselves we service programs, they'll be upgradable weapons, means of communication.

      The F-16 Block 52 + restoration readiness radar station AN/APG-68(v)9 after the consumption of the lamp modules transmit 3A1(pressure vessel) and RF suppression filters, takes THREE MONTHS!
      How so will the F-35, its battle readiness will be very low, as in the F-16 Block 52 +.

      And this is the problem with American weapons.
      It has good performance, but keep it in efficiency is very difficult, due to problems with the cooperation of the company Locheed Martin.

      As for Patriot, its main drawback is the lack of universal rockets shooting into the aerodynamic and balistyznego.
      Another drawback is the radar, their limited field of detail over observation zone.
      From our perspective, this is an interesting project: Medium Extended Air Defense System.

      "Surveillance radar detects incoming targets, then sent the information about them to master fire control system. This transferred the responsibility of their tracking radar surround MFCR (Multifunction Fire Control Radar) (Test MFCR, 2013-10-22). After calculating the trajectory of the QF-4 and MGM-52 Lance, the system fired in their direction two missiles PAC-3 MSE (Missile Segment Enhancement), effectively eliminating the threat."

      If you were to cooperate, but not such as the "offset" for F-16, it would be interesting for us.
      Without cooperation, the required horizontal better for us to buy used S-300 and upgrade yourself.

  2. Lockheed Martin has not officially indicated if it will reduce the stealth qualities of export F-35's. If Lockheed decides to modify export versions, it would likely alter the quality of stealth coatings embedded within the aircraft's skin rather than altering the design. A Lockheed engineer said stealth is 80% shape and 20% materials. Even with altered coatings, the CF-35 should be an entire order of magnitude smaller than 4.5 generation aircraft. I doubt Lockheed would alter the avionics for expert versions. Many export aircraft sold by Lockheed feature more advanced avionics that their older American counterparts.

    The combination of composites and coatings used in the F-35's skin (called "fiber mat") is extremely durable in comparison to the coatings used on older stealth aircraft. I haven't read anything to suggest it wouldn't preform well in arctic conditions. More info:

    Generally speaking, it is preferable to have two engines on a fighter aircraft in the unlikely event an engine failure occurs. However, it isn't really an issue. The most produced 4th generation fighter, the single engine F-16, has undergone thorough testing in arctic conditions without incident. Even in the worst case scenario, the plane will not instantaneously fallout of the sky as a result of engine failure. Depending upon the altitude, a pilot can glide their aircraft for a considerable distance before either landing or bailing out over a safe area. (depends on altitude). Once again, the probability of engine failure is remote especially with the F-35's self diagnostic maintenance software.

  3. The DoD, JPO, and LM have stated on several occasions that there will not be different versions of the F-35 when it comes to the level of RCS it has. While there will be slight changes in national-specific requirements (drag chute, refueling probe on the F-35A, crypto changes to the CNI, etc) there will not be a "dumbed down" version of the F-35.

    On the weapons front, the F-35 will have UAI which will allow it to use weapons as soon as the manufacturer makes them. No more waiting for a block upgrade.

    1. Do you have a specific link or news sources that says the rcs will be reduced? The report I saw said they haven't specified. Even with UAI Block upgrades will still be necessary e.g. reconfiguration of weapon bays in order to accommodate six AIM-120D. UAI helps but there are physical and software modifications that will need to take place that UAI can't provide.

  4. You misunderstand, they have said repeatedly that the RCS will NOT be reduced.

    [quote]"I state categorically that I am not doing a different variant of aircraft for my international partners today," Reuters quoted Heinz as saying in an interview. He said foreign countries who bought the F-35 would be subject to a U.S. disclosure process and U.S. export controls, but [that] the aircraft being sold today were the same airplanes that were also being built for the U.S. military services.

    ...(Update: Asked to clarify the issue of the Delta SDD, Gen. David Heinz provided the following response on June 30:

    “Delta SDD deals with the unique national requirements such as Crypto. Additionally, it does the design and testing necessary to assure critical technologies are protected and therefore exportable.”

    The implication is that, although export aircraft will in fact differ from those built for the US armed forces, they will not be “dumbed-down,” but adapted to buyers’ national requirements. (end of update).[/quote]


    [quote]Lockheed and F-35 programme officials, however, have criticised Boeing's assertions that the F-15SE offers equivalent front-aspect stealth as the JSF, and denied that an international release standard exists for F-35 stealth characteristics. [/quote]


    [quote]“International partners on the F-35 will enjoy a stealth capability on the fighter equal to that of the US versions, according to F-35 pro-gram office officials. Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore, deputy director of the F-35 pro-gram office, gave a non-committal answer during a press conference here this week at the Paris Air Show when a reporter asked about the level of stealth available to foreign users.

    International reporters have long hinted that the United States would hold back some capability. However in a subsequent statement issued by the F-35 program office, officials said "the quick answer to the statement regarding partners being less stealthy than the US is 'no.' (Partners will have same capability)." The program officials noted that the stealth aspects of some partner versions will vary slightly due to their inclusion of some unique gear, such as drag chutes, but it is "a program objective to not impact [low-observable] characteristics. It is our intent to produce a common solution to ensure interoperability for coalition operations as well as production affordability.”[/quote]


    [quote]The F35 configuration that Australia will take delivery of in 2014 is identical to the configuration of the US Air Force. [/quote]

    I hope this helps you understand the program better.

  5. Sorry, I missed your UAI Comments.

    UAI is a "print driver" for weapons & pods. Just like in Windows, you have to have the correct "Print Manager" installed before a "driver" can be used. UAI is broken down in several blocks called “CV” with each one supporting more and more functionality. CV01 covers basic A2G, CV02 is advanced A2G, CV03 covers UAS operations, and CV04 covers A2A. No official info beyond CV04 has been made public but talk is surfacing about adding ISR, FLIR, IRST, jammer, etc pods to the UAI architecture.

    Currently the F-15E is the developmental platform being used for UAI. All F-15Es are at CV01 today and they are working on CV02. All F-16 Blk 40/50 fighters will get UAI CV01 in the M6+ update. F-35 is schedule to get UAI at Blk4 but the specific CV is not known.
    Here are the last 4 years of UAI budget schedules that will help you understand the timeline and features of UAI.

    FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 FY2013

    As long as the plane and the weapon support the same level of CV and the separation tests have been conducted; then any identically configured plane in the world can use that weapon that same day. No special block upgrades need to be done to the plane.

    1. Thanks for the new information regarding the export stealth characteristics. I'll update the article when I get the chance. I still don't see how UAI eliminates the need for block upgrades though. Block upgrades do more than just allow new weapons to be used. I know UAI makes the F-35 able to carry new weapons seamlessly but other changes still need to be implemented through block upgrades. Every major source I know still has the current Block upgrades as they are now. For example, propulsion improvements planned in Block 6 cannot cannot be complicated with just software.

  6. You are partially correct in that "part" of the UAI system needs to be upgraded during the Block upgrade process.

    UAI is broken down into two pieces, the "manager" and the "driver". The manager gets updated during the Block upgrade process and may or may not require components to be added to the plane. The "driver" is loaded into the plane with the rest of the mission prep uploads as each new weapon is needed. This "driver" is not part of the software block and does not need separate integration time or money.

    For a real-world example, look at the F-15E. It got updated with Suite6 in mid 2010. With Suite6 came CV01. At that point, the CV01 software in the F-15E did not specify any specific weapons, but rather a set of features that it could support. The next year (2011), they wrote the CV01 driver for LJDAM and integrated (mostly separation tests) it with the F-15E WITHOUT the need to do a Block upgrade. It only took 3 months and cost $2.5 million. If that would have been a normal weapons integration program, it would have taken a minimum of 3 years and $20 million.

    In addition to LJDAM, they have made all current JDAMs & SDB1 UAI CV01 compliant and are working on JASSM. They did all this WITHOUT any Block change to the F-15E.

    THAT is the power and benefit of UAI.

    Here is a long primer on UAI (starting on page 23) that can explain it better than I and goes into details about the cost and scheduling benefits of UAI.

    1. Slight update... JASSM was integrated and launched from an F-15E using UAI mid last year. Again, no change required to the block of the F-15E to get it done, only UAI drivers uploaded during mission planning.

    2. Ok thanks. I"m going to do some of my own research on UAI and I"ll see if I can integrate it into the article. You've been very helpful, thanks. Any other suggestions?

    3. I am doing a lot of overtime this weekend but I will try to read your post and make some notes...

    4. Hi Mangler,

      Appreciate the excellent analysis. I'm a Canadian with a great deal of interest / concern with the current F-35 buy. However, there are a couple of key areas that you highlighted that were not well addressed, and further would lead me to believe that we could probably get away with a different force structure for considerably less cost, and not a great loss of capability. (Also, we're buying for $9B CAD, not $10B. . .)

      Addressing the points in turn:
      A2A: One of the serious concerns was maneouverability. In your very cogent analysis you pointed out several key facts, including that the current manoeuverability of the F-35 is below that of the current 4.5 gen fighters, but furthermore, that current flight test is showing worse performance again. You somewhat dismiss this by indicating that manoueverability will hopefully be improved in later blocks, but that's typically not what happens to aircraft; typically, they are saddled with more weight and gizmos as time goes on, and their original performance is reduced. Relying on uprated engines and what-not is a poor substitute for an airframe that has some manoeuverability margin. That is an area of serious concern, particularly since, as you say, the end result of A2A is that you likely will still end up with a WVR encounter. You also mention that the AIM-120D has a significantly better range than the Meteor, but there are a couple of key considerations here. Firstly, the Meteor has a far better NEZ than the AIM-120, due to it's continuous ramjet engine. Kinematically, the missile range has a lot more to do with the platform speed and altitude than it does anything else, so an AIM-120 fired from an F-22 at 50K ft and M1.6 will get a much longer range than the same missile from an F-35 at M0.9. Sure, that AMRAAM might get out to 180 km, but it won't have any energy left when it gets there. The Meteor was designed to run down a target that's running away supersonically at 80 km distance, and still catch him. Secondly, because of the aforementioned differences, the AMRAAM takes a lot longer to 'loft' to the full distance, since it may leave the launching aircraft at M4, but that bleeds off as soon as the motor cuts out. Meteor leaves at M4 and stays there the whole time. This gives the launching aircraft more flexibility to find out if it misses to fire another before a WVR merge, since the Meteor will get to the target a lot faster.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Continuing:

    Your scenario for A2A in the Canadian North is kind of a problem; you assume an AWACS for intercept data, which has never, ever been assumed during any of our Canadian continental air defence policy since 1950. Our spec has always been that the jets are unsupported, so let's take that out for a start. Secondly, you say that the F-35's are 'flying over the North' on a CAP, but the only way that could happen would be with drop tanks, since the north is friggin' enormous, and we won't tank for a typical CAP, nor will you guys be so kind as to provide tanker support for us for every CAP we need (yes, I know we have our own - but we don't do this now, nor will we start). Therefore, the true scenario is two unsupported CF-35s with drop tanks and, since the tanks are there, some external extra missiles. So there goes stealth (you said yourself that even the fancy pod that the F-18 is proposed to have will give you an RCS of ~1.0, so let's assume the same thing). Let's assume that the APG-81 is better than the Irbis (it is, I think). So, assuming we actually can intercept the Su-35s (no AWACS, remember), we see them at say 75km. But, they'll see us at maybe 50km with all the drop tanks and what-not. So, in your scenario from above, you then get into a far worse situation, since they can loose a whole salad of missiles (this is the Russian doctrine) from detection range, and then charge away at M2 if they so choose to try again. And if they do get into WVR, you're right, you'll have to hope that the HMD and pilot training are better, because otherwise the SU-35 has all the advantages - he's faster, he's kinematically better at almost all altitudes, he's probably carrying more missiles (Canada's cheap and won't buy the Cuda for a while - see below), he's got a massive redundant airframe (which you pointed out above). In fact the F-35's can't even run away - no, they need to kill the SU-35s or they die.

    Addressing the penetration of an advanced IADS, I've already written too much above to go into exhaustive detail, but your analysis does an excellent job explaining the advantages and disadvantages, while finally conceding that the best thing to do is use standoff weapons and that "If an adversary operates a VHF equipped S-400 or comparable system, stealthier American assistance in the form of B-2’s, F-22’s, and the next generation bomber will be provided to destroy the S-400 or S-500 missile sites. Canada can rest assured knowing it will receive American aid in a time of war." Well, shoot, if the plane can't survive in a really advanced IADS and we'll need you guys to help us, then we can make that argument for a cheaper platform too, right? On top of all that upgrading ground based radar and SAM capabilities is restricted far less than the amount of new toys you can throw in an airplane, so the lethality of these systems will only increase in the future. So, my guess is even you guys will deal with them with a combination of long range high speed missiles / cruise missiles / drones / jammers, and not risk the precious F-22's or pilots anywhere near them.
    You concede this point, by recommending that we buy EF-18 Growlers and use them in a supporting role, a move I entirely agree with, but which still implies the CF-35 doesn't provide the value for money that we need (Remember, we're about the size of California - we don't have piles of cash).

  8. Continuing:

    Finally, you talk about buying munitions and pilot training hours, but if we buy CF-35s, our maintenance costs will eat into those munitions budgets, and if we want to give each pilot 200 hours of flight time a year, on 35 airframes that gets us to a/c's final fatigue life in about 20 years, assuming 70 pilots, 35 planes and 8000 hour lives. Given that they're so expensive to run and that we only fly the CF-18s about 100 hours a year or so, I'd bet that we'll get less training and missiles, not more.

    No, for my money, you spend less on the airframe, and save that cash for the best missiles and munitions money can buy. They can be upgraded and changed, the airframe has to be survivable in A2A, but for everything else, she's a bomb truck. This is the reason that aircraft carriers last 50 years. Their weapon systems are independent of the ship, and that gives you tremendous flexibility. This reasoning is true with the F-35, but if we're paying so much to buy and maintain it, I guarantee you will be cheap on the weapons side.

    So, my counter proposal:
    85 Gripen NG's ~ $70M (current price is apparently $60M) = 5.95B
    24 EF/18 Growlers ~$85M (half as EF-18's up front, other half with option for conversion - like what the RAAF did)
    $200M Spares / etc.
    Total: $8.2B

    With additional free cash, for munitions, buy:
    150 Meteors (~$210M)
    150 AIM-120Ds (~$459M)
    150 Storm Shadows (~$150M)
    100 AGM-88 AARGMs ($101.94M)
    100 Perseus (when it's ready in say 2020. . .)
    Total = ~$820M

    Total cost comes to $9B upfront. Now let's game this out:

    Fly CAPs up north with 2 Gripen NGs, and an F-18 for the radar. Everybody is carrying drop tanks. F-18 sees the Su-35s at about the same time they see him. Gripens fire Meteors. First set miss. Gripens fire meteors again, second opportunity to kill. Everybody gets to WVR. Gripens get into turn and burn dogfight with Su-35s, but have even odds chance of survival since they can actually power themselves or manouever out of trouble.

    IADS suppression, use heavy jamming from EF-18s (you know the USN only has about 90 of these? You should probably buy more. . .) Gripens fire storm shadows and / or Perseus missiles from way the hell away. With larger numbers of airframes and more missiles, more options. Plus, as you say, if it's really hairy, our friend and ally the USA will come and take them out. . .

    Assuming 100 hours per airframe for your fleet, the operating cost will be:
    35 F-35 * 100 hours * 31K / hr = 108.5M
    42 F-18E/F * 100 hrs * 18k/hr = 75M
    Total hours available 7700 hours / year
    Total operating cost for 8000 hours / airframe

  9. Continuing:

    Operating cost of a Gripen NG = ~ 10K / flight hour (assume double of existing Gripen)
    So, my fleet costs are:
    85 Gripen NG's * 10K/hr * 100 hrs = 85M
    24 EF-18E/F * 18K/hr *100 hrs = 43.2M
    Total hours available per year = 10900
    Total operating cost for 8000 hours / airframe

    So, for a lifetime savings of $4B I get better to equal A2A, equivalent IADS, 25% more flight hours in my fleet (7700 to 10900), more airplanes (109 to 77), more munitions - and, to top it off, I'm being conservative:
    1. The Gripen 'stated' operating cost is half the one I'm putting forward
    2. The Gripen purchase price is fudged upwards by $10M
    3. The F-35 operating cost is estimated. It might come down, but I doubt that. . .it'll probably be higher.

  10. 4. The F-35 won't actually be able to do a CAP up North until we get drop tanks, and the vanilla F-35A won't be able to do this until the tanks are applied, so for the first 10 years we won't be able to do a CAP up north unless we tank.

    The hilarious thing about my proposal is. . .with the money you save, in 20 years, you take a look at your fleet, and can ditch the EF-18s for. . .F-35 Block 15s (or whatever they are at that point),or maybe even UCAVs. Then you actually have known capabilities with airframes that are well proven, and you can buy them at a much more reasonable price. Everybody wins.

    Have a good one!


    1. Hi Able,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I'd like to spend a day or two to write out a thoughtful counterargument. I'd like to indulge your comments to at least the same extent in which you posted but I'm pretty busy these days.
      Hope to hear from you soon,

    2. My Counterargument:
      As I mentioned, only SOME aspects of maneuverability can be altered through block upgrades. Problems with high wingloading will almost certainly remain in the F-35 design. The AIM-120D has an improved NEZ over the AIM-120C-7 as well. While it’s true the Metor has advantages over the AIM-120D, both provide excellent performance and frankly the seeker is more important. A fancy ramjet engine doesn’t do much good if the missile can’t hit the target. The AIM-120 is combat tested and the D is an evolution of its initial success. Once again, the Meteor is a very capable missile, but it’s not in a different league than the AIM-120D. Also the Meteor is between 900,000 to 1 million Euros which makes it around 1.3 million USD a piece. I believe your cost estimation is a bit low.
      In regards to your range criticisms: I hate to involve semantics but if you look carefully at the scenario I’ve created, I never specified how far up North or gave mile ranges. Thus, one cannot logically conclude the CF-35 would not be able to operate at the non-specified area. The range concern of the F-35 is largely unfounded. Relative to other aircraft, the F-35 carries a lot of fuel and has a better combat radius than most aircraft including the current Gripen and CF-18 (internal load is variable but in most cases assuming Gripen is not clean). Tanks could be used or refueling aircraft to extend the ~590 nautical mile combat radius even further.
      In regards to AWACS, it is naïve to assume no C2 assets would be present in a joint US-Canadian defensive operation. Both USAF and CAF forces train with AWACS assets in RED FLAG and have been in every major air campaign since Desert Storm. The inclusion of American assets is realistic. Even if there were no AWACS aircraft, the interconnected network of radar stations comprising NORAD could provide similar information to allied forces.

    3. Continued...
      U.S Aid and joint-operations: Although Canada can depend upon the United States for support, it would be irresponsible of Canada to defer further defense needs to the US. Canada needs to be able to defeat at least portions of an advanced IADS on its own. The United States will try and aid Canada but that doesn’t mean the US military can watch over Canadian forces at every point during a large scale conventional war. Anything can happen in war. Future operations would be much more effective if multiple NATO partners had access to stealth aircraft. In Operation Unified Protector, both French and British aircraft had to wait for US cruise missiles and stealth bombers to disable the Libyan air defenses before striking their own targets (keep in mind it was the much less capable S-200 system). The Gripen NG would be unable to effectively penetrate airspace protected by upgraded variants of the S-300 let alone the S-400. The current Gripen does cannot deploy the storm shadow (it can use the KEP 350). Stand-off weapons are great but many SAM systems are pretty mobile. It is much more cost effective to have a CF-35 using SDB’s to take out multiple components of a SAM system in one sortie vs. a Gripen launching a few 1 million dollar plus missiles at targets which might have already relocated. Plus, if it’s an S-400 system with 40N6 missiles, the Gripen will not be safe even at a range of 150 nautical miles (storm shadow range). The 40N6 missile is reportedly capable of intercepting targets 215-240 nautical miles away. The EA-18G will certainly help suppress an enemy IADS but the more modern Russian SAM systems are getting harder to jam. As I explained in the article, the CF-35 can safely enter and destroy a S-400 system if its equipped with the AGM-154 (which Canada has already bought) and the S-300 can be destroyed with SDB’s. Only stealth plus EW can reliably and “safely” defeat an advanced IADS.

    4. Continued...

      Cost: While it’s true the CF-35 is much more expensive than the Gripen NG, it’s worth it. The figures I’ve seen for maintenance put the F-35 at $30,000 per flight hour (F-22 is $44,000 per flight hour, Rafale ~$20,000-22,000 per flight hour). While the base Gripen has an operating cost of around $10,000 per flight hour, it might be unreasonable to assume the same for the NG. It’s still reasonable to conclude it will be much cheaper than the CF-35 however. The broader underlying issue is only 1.4% of Canada’s GDP is contributed towards defense. With all due respect, Canada is not fulfilling its mutually agreed upon NATO obligations. Sure it’s doing more than others but that’s not an excuse given the egregious performance of other NATO partners in Unified Protector (e.g. running out of bombs after only dropping a few hundred). If Canada spent the 2% of GDP on defense, operating costs eating into munitions and other expenses would be much less of an issue. (Don’t worry we still love you guys )
      Logistical: One of the main problem with Canada acquiring the Gripen NG stems from the fact that Switzerland and Sweden have prioritization on orders and Switzerland won’t get deliveries until 2025. Canada will have to wait a while for it to procure 80 of them. The first 55 of the planned 65 CF-35’s will arrive between 2019 and 2024. Canada can extend the life of its CF-18s to an extent but structural upgrades will be needed at a certain point. Routine maintenance is no sufficient enough past a certain point.

    5. Continued...

      Conclusion: The Gripen NG will likely be a great aircraft. The reality is it will be able to meet some of Canada’s defense needs but not all of them (assuming Kopp’s initial list at the top of the article is indeed representative). The Question comes down to how much capability you need and what you’re willing to pay for. In my opinion, the CF-35 does the best job at fulfilling Canada’s various defense needs. Canada’s acquisition of the CF-35 would greatly strengthen NATO as well. Canada plans to use the CF-35 for the next four decades. As capable of the Gripen NG is, I don’t think it will be viable 20 years from now when the PAK FA , J-31, and other stealth export fighters are widely proliferated.

  11. I can't put forth an opinion regarding the PAK-FA, and the J-20. These aircraft are too new, and probably aren't representative of the production version. The SU-35S is another story. It simply is the finest example of a generation 4 fighter. It isn't stealth, it is anti-stealth. The 20KW Irbis-E radar, the OLS-35 IRST, and perhaps an L-band radar in the wing's leading edge are all designed to detect and to track a low observable target. To say the heavily compromised F-35 is superior, is to grossly overstate the case. The F-22A is superior. It was designed to be from the outset. The F-35's maneuverability is comparable to an F/A-18C. The SU-35 was designed to eat aircraft in that performance class for breakfast. Canada might be better served by acquiring the F-15. An even better option would've been the F-14D Super Tomcat . Too bad the US Navy chose the F/A-18E/F,a strike fighter instead. My point is, a "strike" fighter cannot act as a stand in for a dedicated air superiority platform, no matter how many fancy bells and whistles it has.

  12. The SU-35S is what the F-14D was intended to be, the pinnacle of non-stealthy fighters. The ultra stealthy F-22A is the pinnacle of fighter aircraft, period. The F-35 was intended to be the LOW end complement to the high end Raptor. Now we are led to believe the F-35 can replace the highly capable Raptor. C'mon, smoke and mirrors are no substitute for performance.

  13. Um, you guys should know Serbs shot down the F-117 Stealth Bomber when it opened its weapon bays, and also, the maximum speed for the F-35 with weapons is recorded to be Mach 1.5 (0.1 less than its maximum speed). BTW, this article is the only thing that makes sense.

  14. "The CF-35's AN/APG-81's radar detects the reduced radar cross section of two Su-35BM..
    ...One Russian pilot registers a pair of faint radar contacts 25 nautical miles (46.3km) away and sends the data to his wing man. The Russians move to intercept...."
    I guess the Russian will start to climb and accelerate =out climb and outpace the CF-35 and engage the slow moving CF-35 at will.

    "...In Libya French forces were dependent upon U.S stealth bombers and cruise missiles to destroy enemy S-200 sites before engaging their own targets."
    Wow, I didn't now that one could use cruise misiles to destroy SAM sights.
    Could Rafale use it's SCALP missile to then? Yes
    Could the Eurofighter use the TAURUS KEPD 350 missile? Yes
    Could the Gripen use the TAURUS KEPD 350 missile? Yes
    Only an idiot would put a jet fighter at risk if you instead could use a cruise missile to do the job... Has nothing to do with the capability of the plane.

  15. "The JAS 39 Gripen has a combat radius of 432 nautical miles"
    Wrong: JAS-39E has a combat radius of 700 nautical miles

    "...combat thrust to weight ratio ...JAS 39 Gripen .97"
    Wrong: JAS-39E will have a thrust to weight ratio above 1.05.

    "...Its not clear if Saab has the manufacturing capacity to deliver a sizable order of JAS 39 NG aircraft by 2019 given the prioritization of the Swiss and Swedish orders."
    However, it is very clear that the CF-35 will not be delivered before 2022.
    The JAS-39E is already flying, using a very common engine that is built in the US. The rest is just about scaling up the production line. Not even the software for the CF-35 will be ready by 2016.

    "The Swedish Air Force will not receive its first next generation Gripens until 2023."
    2018 actually

    "The current Gripen does cannot deploy the storm shadow."
    Since non of the users of Gripen is using the storm shadow is is not integrated, but in contrast to the CF-35 the users of the Gripen system choose them self which weapon to integrate. Users of the F-35 must ask the US if they may integrate, and if the US is willing to integrate the weapon for them. F-35 users do NOT have access to the source code of the airplane.

    "One of the main problem with Canada acquiring the Gripen NG stems from the fact that Switzerland and Sweden have prioritization on orders and Switzerland won’t get deliveries until 2025."
    Keep dreaming dude, the delivery will start 2018. Four years before operation CF-35s.

    "As capable of the Gripen NG is, I don’t think it will be viable 20 years from now when the PAK FA , J-31, and other stealth export fighters are widely proliferated."
    And what inventions are you going to put in the CF-35 platform that you can't put in the Gripen NG? Besides, the operational cost of the CF-35 compared to the Gripen NG is so high that future developments for the Gripen system should be considered in the evaluation of the system. New radars, new IRST, new coating, new engine, new weapons, new jammers or maybe you will use the money you saved to buy small unmanned stealth bombers.

  16. Split buy is my solution, 48 F/A-18E/F Pre Wired as Growlers with the Next Generation Upgrades. Then in the 2020-2025 timeline another buy most likely of 36 F-35's. Once the F-35's come online 12 of the Super Hornets would be configured permanently as EA-18G's leaving the RCAF with 36 F/A-18NG, 36 CF-35, and 12 EA-18G. For northern patrols one F/A-18 would be used in concert with a CF-35, much in the same way the USAF is planning on using the F-15's to spot targets for Raptors the Super Hornets could be used to spot targets for CF-35's on a lower level albeit. This solution is not unheard of in the Canadian forces, the Canadian Army is planning on fielding 2 separate variations of the same tank, one for asymmetrical warfare and one for conventional warfare each being optimized for their task. Once the F/A-18's reach their mid lift refit period they would be retired and or sold off in favour of either CF-35 Block 15's or newer 6th Generation fighters. Whatever the Military purchases serious thought needs to be put into equipping them with long range cruise missiles, why take the chance with a 100 Million Dollar aircraft when you can throw a 1 Million Dollar cruise missile through someones bathroom window from 500 Kilometres away. This is another thing entirely but the Canadian Forces model of procurement needs to be changed, Military procurement is too much of a political football right now to actually be done properly.